NORMAN – Senior night was going about as perfectly as possible for Oklahoma Sooners All-American guard Buddy Hield, who confidently trotted back down court after knocking down his fourth 3-pointer of the night.
It was the first day of March, and Oklahoma was clicking at the perfect time, having seemingly put a month’s worth of shooting slumps behind them a little more than 30 minutes Tuesday night. They were 18 points ahead of Baylor with just less than nine minutes to play inside Lloyd Noble Center.
The next nine minutes should have been a coronation of a senior class that was honored before the game as one of the best in program history. It was just about the opposite. Instead, it was nearly a statement of just how good Baylor can play on the road, where it had won six times in Big 12 play.
Oklahoma needed a run-slowing put-back by Ryan Spangler, who snapped an 11 unanswered points and scored the only basket in an massive second-half run by the Bears, a pull-up jumper by Isaiah Cousins and four points in the final minutes from Hield to salvage a win that should have come much easier.
A dominant start, something Oklahoma had been looking for through the entire month of February, was overshadowed by a second late collapse in the last four days. Just one week from the end of the regular season, Oklahoma survived somehow, 73-71.
“We’re not going to throw any back at this point. Obviously, we didn’t finish it at all like we needed to or wanted to,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “A lot of good plays, a lot of good plays in the first 25, 30 minutes. We’ve got to keep doing that. Then kind of what happened there late was similar to what happened on Saturday. It’s hard to explain. It’s gotta change fast.”
A 26-3 run by Oklahoma (23-6, 11-6) to open the game was forgotten midway through the second half. Baylor had spurted back, but the lead was still closer to 20 points than 10. As Baylor ignited a 21-2 run in less that five minutes, the Sooners’ 16 points off turnovers through the first six minutes might as well have not existed.
Far more prevalent was Oklahoma’s five-straight turnovers during the Bears’ comeback. Baylor (21-9, 10-7) forced turnovers at the top of the key and scored seven unanswered points in less than 90 seconds to finally narrow the advantage to just three points with five minutes to play.
Whether by fatigue, bad ball movement, lazy transition defense or maybe a combination of all three and more, it took Oklahoma just 5:03 of game time to watch an 18-point lead disappear.
“We got stagnant,” Hield said. “We didn’t have the flow we had in the first half. We were just stagnant. Thank God, Isaiah stepped up and made a big shot. We really needed that. He picked us up.”
After Baylor took the lead, Cousins hit a pull-up jumper with 2:27 to play to spark six straight points by Oklahoma. Hield, who moved into fourth place all-time in program scoring history and set a new single-season Big 12 record for made 3-pointers, then finished at the rim and hit a pair of free throws.
It was just enough points.
He missed the front end of a 1-and-1 after Baylor pulled back within three points before grabbing the final rebound of the game after an intentionally missed free throw by Taurean Prince with two seconds to play.
All the good of the first 30 minutes had been erased in just a few possessions. Luckily for Oklahoma, the win wasn’t gone and Senior Night wasn’t ruined.
“You can’t afford to do that, especially this time of year,” Kruger said. “You get into tournament play and one bad stretch can end it all very quickly. Our approach throughout has been to try to play the next possession better. We had string a possessions where we didn’t play very well. It is concerning. . . . We have to be more assertive at that moment and step to the ball stronger and be stronger — in general. We made a lot of weak plays during that stretch.”