Being on the road in Bedlam made it even tougher but the No. 24 Sooners showed resolve Saturday night inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Oklahoma knew that this was a big game – a chance to steal one of those road wins that are so hard to come by in the Big 12 Conference, regarded as the toughest conference in the nation.
The Sooners went 12-for-12 from the free throw line in the final six minutes to hold on a 64-56 victory and sweep the season series against Oklahoma State for the second straight season – and fifth time in the past decade.
“On the road, I’m proud of it,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “It’s not easy to do on the road against a good ball club.”
The Sooners’ lead grew to five points with 10 minutes to play and then stuck there, at a place where multiple times this season it had quickly vanished. Maybe the hanging lead helped, allowing Oklahoma (14-7, 5-4 Big 12) keep its composure.
It wasn’t a perfect ending – Oklahoma hit just one field goal in the final 10:09 of the game. The Sooners needed to overcome that challenge, though.
“The first couple games we lost at the end, we didn't execute like we were supposed to, and (Saturday), we took care of the ball,” Spangler said. “ . . . That's the way you've got to do to win a game and that's what we did.”
Spangler, an Oklahoma-native, talked earlier this week about shutting up the Oklahoma State crowd. It’s his favorite part of road games. It took a little bit longer than a few minutes to quiet Gallagher-Iba, but as fans started to file out with seven seconds to go, the ultimate effect had to be just as nice.
“It’s always fun getting a win and getting to walk out and see their crowd not very happy,” Spangler said Thursday before the game.
Before Saturday, Oklahoma hadn’t won a game by fewer than 10 points. It’s not so much the final score in their five close losses, but the way that they lost: Bad shots, untimely turnovers and the inability to get a late defensive stop.
Oklahoma State (14-7, 4-5), which lost for the first time at home in Big 12 play and only the second time all season, went 2-for-7 in the final six minutes and missed its final four shots.
“In most close ball games, it’s gonna be a case of a stop here or a stop there or a bucket here or a bucket there,” Kruger said. “It’s such a fine line. . . . We got some stops at critical times. It’s a fine line between who has that margin going down the stretch.”
The Sooners fell behind by as many as 12 points in the first half but still never seemed out of the game. Oklahoma State stars LeBryan Nash (foul trouble) and Phil Forte (just three shots in the first half) were neutralized early and kept the Cowboys from ending the game.
Oklahoma knew that it wasn’t out of the game at halftime, despite being down by seven. The Sooners know something about putting teams away, and their first-hand knowledge gave them a chance.
Part of that was Woodard, who scored a game-high 17 points and led four players in double figures for Oklahoma, which faces a rematch against West Virginia on Tuesday.
With Nash and forward Michael Cobbins in foul trouble, Spangler and Thomas combined for 25 points and 17 rebounds as Oklahoma dominated the paint, outscoring Oklahoma State, 28-20.
Spangler finished with a career-high six assists, including a big kick to Frank Booker for an open 3-pointer when the Cowboys pulled within two.
“We rely on him to knock down those shots,” Spangler said. “We know he can do it. I think before coach was telling him in a timeout to be ready because a big one was coming. When it came, he knocked it down for us.”
The lead was down to two points less than two minutes into the second half and gone complete with 14:41 to play after a 3-pointer by Buddy Hield, who scored 12 of his 15 points after halftime and had nine points in the first seven minutes of the second half as Oklahoma took the lead for good.