Two games into the year and just days after transfer forward TaShawn Thomas was ruled immediately eligible, giving the Sooners their potent starting lineup – one of the best in the country, Oklahoma gave up a 20-point lead in the second half on the road to Creighton.
Eleven days later after knocking off back-to-back major conference teams at the Battle 4 Atlantis, Oklahoma suffered an early-game shooting spell against Wisconsin, eventually settling for second place at the tournament.
A late start doomed the Sooners, who still haven’t won an NCAA Tournament or Big 12 Tournament game under current coach Lon Kruger, against Washington, and now, the Big 12 schedule has been dotted with lapses.
There have been multiple times this season, when Oklahoma has just been outworked. It happened again Saturday night.
“I thought (Kansas State) won the battles on the boards, and a lot of times when you miss a shot and they get it back, obviously you can't transition the other way,” Kruger said. “Rebounding hurt us big.”
While there were other factors holding Oklahoma back, most namely the officiating, the Sooners still had control late against Kansas State. Even after shooting 1-for-11 from behind the 3-point arc in the first half, Oklahoma still had its chance by holding Kansas State to just 13 made field goals the entire game.
The officials might have taken Oklahoma’s top rebounder, Ryan Spangler, out of the game and given Kansas State a phantom three points midway through the second half, but Kruger told reporters after the game that the Sooners (17-8, 8-5 Big 12) couldn’t be beaten by that.
They shouldn’t have been beaten by that.
“That's part of life in the Big 12 sometimes on the road,” Kruger said of the officiating. “You've just got to be tough enough to overcome that.”
Oklahoma biggest problem in all its late-game struggles this season has been its tenacity.
That shouldn’t be an issue for a team that has a combined 380 starts – that’s more than 10 seasons worth of combined starts. One of the most experienced starting lineups in the country and one that hasn’t been broken up all season shouldn’t have these kinds of problems late.
The biggest thing that Oklahoma had going for it before this season was its experience – not its depth or its diverse offense. The Sooners experience should pull them through late in games, but again, it wasn’t there Saturday night.
Kansas State scored just once in the final 3:52 but pulled down three offensive rebounds in the final five minutes, including one on its final possession that led to Marcus Foster’s game-winning 3-pointer with three seconds to go.
Oklahoma hit just one field goal in the final five minutes. All things considered, an experienced team with Sweet 16-type goals shouldn’t be outworked – or swept – by a team wrought with lineup inconsistencies and a sub-100 RPI rating.
“Their ball club has been right there” Kruger said. “They've fought and maintained a great intensity and again, credit coach Weber for that. When you're having lineup changes and you haven't won a few in a row and yet they've played hard every time out, and he's done a great job.”