NORMAN – Mobbed by his teammates, Oklahoma forward Khadeem Lattin let out a scream amid a crowd of hands that patted him on the head. A little more than two weeks ago, Lattin made himself the goat after a missed front end of a 1-and-1 free throw attempt with 2.1 seconds left in regulation against Kansas that would have given the Sooners the victory.
Almost inconsolable after the 109-106 3 OT loss at Kansas, Lattin stood in the bowels of the Lloyd Noble Center on Saturday with a big smile on his face. It was Lattin that sent the Sooners to the top spot in the country with a last-second tip-in in a 70-68 win against visiting West Virginia.
He had his moment of redemption, and No. 2 Oklahoma had earned its place atop the college basketball world.
“It’s kind of a redemption game for me,” Lattin said. “Getting to tip it in was great. The whole team all contributed to the win. It was my time at that moment to tip it in.”
OU forward Ryan Spangler stood away from his team at center court as it rushed around Lattin. He reached up his hand with one finger raised. Oklahoma is headed to the No. 1 ranking in the country for the first time since the end of the 1989-90 season, earning it the hard way with back-to-back two-point victories this week.
Oklahoma (15-1, 4-1 Big 12 Conference) got exactly what it wanted on the final play. Jordan Woodard beat his man off the dribble and forced help. His floater rimmed out, but West Virginia forward Devin Williams left Lattin alone in the low post for his first game-winning basket since the fifth grade – a dunk no less.
It set off a frenzy and a moment that the Sooners shared with Lattin.
“It’s big for him,” guard Buddy Hield said. “He’ll grow from this. This will give him more momentum. He’s has a lot of energy and plays with a lot of energy and passion.”
It was a big moment of growth for Oklahoma, too.
No. 11 West Virginia came to Norman as the top offensive rebounding team in the nation, but Oklahoma held the Mountaineers (15-2, 4-1) to just 11 offensive rebounds and seven second-chance points. Oklahoma, which has never lost to West Virginia in Norman, turned over the ball 18 times – the fewest in the past three games despite playing the nation’s top turnover-producing team.
There were long spurts without points in both halves, yet the Sooners managed to stay in the game with timely free throws and good defense on their own end.
West Virginia is well known for its toughness. Oklahoma proved that it has some of its own.
“You’re gonna have to win games a lot of different ways,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “When the game is free-flowing and we can get it out and we can go, that’s our comfort. When you can’t do that against West Virginia you’ve got to figure out a way to hang in there. Yeah, it was a good statement about our guys. Taking some steps to win a game that’s maybe not their most comfortable style of play.”
Sluggish on the offensive end for the second-straight game, Oklahoma found a way to make it work by getting the free-throw line. The Sooners went 27-for-32, setting a season-high for made free throws and taking advantage of the Mountaineers’ pressure defense.
Oklahoma, which has now played in five conference games with an average margin of less than five points, again found a way to pull out a victory. It watched its lead slip away but got a big stop late when Ryan Spangler shut down Williams one-on-one in the low post.
“We have to finish ballgames,” Hield said. “. . . We find a way to win. (Saturday), we found a win to win. We hustled and were aggressive and Khadeem got the tip-in.
We found a way to win. We have to keep growing from that. This is a good win. We have to go on to the next one.”
“The leadership of this group — the senior group and Jordan — know what happens today is OK, but it’s nothing compared to what we have to keep doing to get better to keep challenging and the opposition that lies ahead,” Kruger said.
“For our guys, it’s great. But they understand it’s not the most important thing.”