Magic-Less Sooners

NORMAN, Okla. — Guard Steven Pledger's last second attempt to tie it and send the game to overtime was on line and appeared to be on the money, but it wasn't to be, as it rimmed off and the fourth-ranked Missouri Tigers held on to beat the Sooners 71-68 Monday evening at Lloyd Noble Center.

"It was perfect," Pledger said. "The play was designed to miss the free throw and get the tip-out and we actually got the tip-out. It was on line; it felt good when it left my hand. It didn't go in."

Forward Romero Osby had to brick the free throw and hope for a tip-out and 3-point attempt because he missed the first one.

And like it's been for a large portion of this season for the Sooners, the execution was there, but the bounce just wasn't.

Missouri did its part to prevent the Sooners from even getting a trey up, as they immediately fouled Osby coming out of an OU timeout with 3.9 seconds left.

Still, the Sooners got that looked they ultimately wanted, albeit in a different way.

"We were trying to get it in bounds and out of Roe's hands quickly and back to Pledge," said head coach Lon Kruger. "But, they fouled on the catch, which is generally a good strategy."

Considering OU's struggles at the charity stripe, it was a fantastic strategy.

The Big 12's No. 2 ranked foul shooting team hit just 9-of-23 attempts at the line, leaving a lot of points out there.

"The free throws were killer," said Pledger, who missed three after coming into the contest with just one miss in 28 attempts during conference play. "I couldn't even understand why I was missing, let alone the rest of the team. It's something we've got to get better at."

In fact, three Sooners missed at least three free throws, all on eight attempts or fewer.

Osby finished just 3-for-8, while point guard Sam Grooms was 3-for-7 and Pledger made 1-of-4 attempts.

Guard Cameron Clark clanked both of his attempts in the first half.

Only forward Andrew Fitzgerald shot a respectable mark, going 2-for-2.

"It's hard to explain because we have shot free throws very well," Kruger said. "Certainly, Pledge is one of the top shooters in the country. When you play the game long enough, it will happen, unfortunately. It happened kind of with everyone it seemed. As a team we have shot it well all year. It's a hard thing to explain missing those early ones. It got a little contagious, perhaps. Again, it was just bad timing for that."

Especially in a contest where it had a top five team on the ropes.

The Tigers shot 56.3 percent from the field, and OU still had a legitimate chance to end up victorious.

That's because the Sooners shot it well themselves, canning 51 percent of its shots from the field.

Pledger, outside of the free throws, had a stellar game with 22 points on 8-for-14 shooting, including 5-of-9 from behind the arc.

Grooms managed 17 points on 7-of-9, and forward Andrew Fitzgerald also finished in double figures, hitting half of his 10 attempts.

And guard Carl Blair even scored six points on 2-for-3 shooting and added five rebounds.

"It was great to see Carl [Blair knock] down some shots tonight," Kruger said. "We need that from Carl. I thought Sam's effort tonight was terrific. We talked about the last couple days in preparation that the elbow jumper is going to be there. So, he needed to step up and be aggressive. He did it with confidence and he did it aggressively. It took a little courage to do that. I liked his attack on the offensive end. So, we need that, too.

"Obviously, Pledge, Roe and Drew are giving us some pretty consistent numbers. We just need to get some other guys feeling good about stepping up there. We still think they will."

As he's done with many teams, Mizzou guard Marcus Denmon had his way with the Sooner defense, racking up a game-high 25 points on 9-for-16 shooting.

Forward Ricardo Ratliffe added 15 and guard Michael Dixon put home 13.

Guard Kim English finished shy of double figures but helped open up the Mizzou offense.

"It was definitely challenging because Kimmy is a guard, he's not a four," Pledger said. "[Osby] is a good matchup, he can move his feet and things like that. But Kimmy is a little bit faster. We tried to contain, we held a little bit too much and gave them shots."

In the end, some of the looks were just too good and allowed the Tigers to hit enough shots to escape Norman with a win.

OU led it for most of the first half, getting up by as much as six when it was 29-23 with just 5:33 remaining in the opening 20 minutes.

MIzzou, though, closed the opening frame on a 13-4 run to go into intermission up 36-33.

It never trailed again.

The Tigers led by as much as 10 with 14:51 to go in the contest.

They were up 50-40 at that point.

But a furious OU run in the upcoming minutes allowed it to sneak back within three by the 12-minute mark.

Neither team scored again for two-and-a-half minutes until Mizzou guard Matt Pressey hit a layup.

OU drew to within two twice after that but could never get over the hump.

"It's not hard at all to understand the fact that in basketball you have tomorrow, but by the same token, you want to win at this point in time, right now," Grooms said. "We just have certain plays and certain mishaps on the court that don't allow us to do that right now. Like Coach said, when we're ready to do it, we'll do it. It's up to us at the end of the day."

The Sooners will get another chance when they head to Lubbock, Texas for a 7 p.m. Saturday contest against Texas Tech.

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