The Sooners looked like they didn’t want to be there, even though it was the Horned Frogs who showed up in Norman in the early-morning hours Saturday with a game that was all but meaningless in the final week of the season.
Oklahoma clearly wanted to be in Ames, Iowa but luckily realized at halftime that it needed to be in Norman for at least another 20 minutes.
Snapping out of its stagnant state in the first four minutes of the second half, a time Oklahoma forward TaShawn Thomas said the team thought would be key, the Sooners erased a 10-point deficit that was capped with a hand slap from Buddy Hield to Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger with just less than 11 minutes left to play.
No. 16 Oklahoma continued its late-game resurgence, proving that it wanted to be on the court inside Lloyd Noble Center and scored on the final seven possessions to take the lead for good and close out a 67-60 victory.
“It’s kind of a good thing to play in games like this and come out of it,” said Thomas, who scored down low twice to give Oklahoma the lead for good and knocked down a pair of free throws in the final seconds. “Nobody wants to lose at the same time, but when you know that you fought hard through a strong game, it makes the win feel even better.”
Oklahoma (20-8, 11-5 Big 12), which reached the 20-win mark for the third straight season under Kruger, had struggled late in games during its worst stretch of the season – four losses in five Big 12 games. During its current three-game win streak, that script has changed. In fact, it has flipped.
After rallying to beat Texas and holding off Texas Tech for Kruger’s first overtime victory with the Sooners, Oklahoma scored on its final seven possessions while holding TCU (17-12, 4-12) to just four points over the final 4:30.
The Sooners, who play Iowa State on Monday and Kansas on Saturday to close the regular season, had dropped games like this before. “The difference in close games is you make a shot here and you get a stop there,” Kruger said. “There’s a certain amount of confidence that contributes to being able to do that. And I think when you win a game or two that’s close, you have a little more confidence the next time you get in a close game, and you get that bucket to go or you get that defensive board. That’s the difference. There’s a fine line there.”
Hield finished with a game-high 21 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. Thomas had 15 points and eight rebounds. Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler, who had just one rebound, finished with 10 points each.
After closing the first half without a field goal and just four points through the final 7:23 of the first half, Oklahoma knocked down four of its first eight shots in the first four minutes of the second half to close the gap to just two points.
“At halftime, we were down and that’s what made us say, OK, we need to stop playing around and come out here and fight,” Thomas said. “We kept saying the first four minutes were the most important minutes of the second half. We knew if we came out strong we’d be able to come back.”
After committing eight turnovers and allowing seven offensive rebounds in the first half, the Sooners gave the ball away just twice in the second half and allowed TCU just two second-chance opportunities as they outscored the Horned Frogs by 15 points in the final 20 minutes.
The Sooners are now right where they want to be: Within striking distance of a regular-season conference title with just two games to play.
“In these games, you just have to work harder,” Kruger said. “You have to work harder to get open. You have to work harder to set a good screen. You have to work harder to get the results you want. It’s all about just grinding and staying in there and trusting each other and making plays for each other.”