Sooner survive again

Taj Gray (pictured above) led the way with 23 points, including the game-winning basket with 1:18 left in the game, as the Sooners picked up their third straight one-point win with a 71-70 victory over Kansas State. With the win, the Sooners (19-6, 10-4) clinched a first-round bye in the Big 12 Tournament. (AP Photo/Ty Russell)

Norman — For the third straight game, No. 20 Oklahoma found themselves on the positive side of a 1-point win.

The Sooners, who trailed by as many as seven points in the second half, got 23 points from Taj Gray and 12 points and 10 assists from Terrell Everett in a 71-70 win Saturday in Norman.

"We feel fortunate to win this game," said OU head coach Kelvin Sampson, who improved his record in 1-point games to 4-2 this season and 15-4 overall. "But you know what? Five months from now nobody's going to ask you won it. We're 19-6 and now we move forward."

And move forward the Sooners will, as they clinched a first-round bye in the Big 12 Tournament in March, despite still having two regular season games remaining.

Oklahoma held a 38-37 halftime lead, but the Wildcats scored on seven of eight possessions from the 16:00 mark to the to 8:20 mark of the second half to build a 63-56 lead.

However, the Sooners fought back and eventually tied the game at 65-65 on a Michael Neal jumpshot, and they eventually took the lead on a 3-point play by Kevin Bookout with 2:50 to go.

The Wildcats would add an Akeem Wright free throw with 2:37 left to cut the lead to one, and then Cartier Martin's jump shot put the Wildcats ahead with 1:47 to go. But Oklahoma came right back on their next possession and got a tough turnaround jumper in the lane by Gray with 1:18 left that gave OU the lead for good.

And that's when the Sooners, who stuggled to guard KSU's athletic wings inside most of the afternoon, put down the clamps defensively. Bookout blocked a David Hoskins attempt with 52 seconds left, and then OU's defense held off two Kansas State shot attempts in the final 10 seconds to secure the win.

"I thought we made some defensive mistakes tonight, and every time we had a breakdown I thought Kansas State took advantage of it," Sampson said.

"But we kept answering. There's something about our program over the years that if we get down we still hang in there and keep fighting, and I think that's a tremendous attribute to have."

Speaking of Bookout, not only did the senior from Stroud, Okla. block a key shot and convert a 3-point play that gave OU the lead late in the game, he forced a turnover at the top of the key late in the game after deflecting a pass that was eventually knocked out of bounds off the Wildcats.

"Don't mistake making plays with making baskets," said Sampson on Bookout, who finsihed with just seven points and six rebounds. "Kevin Bookout had a tremendous blocked shot at that end and got a possession for us.

"And how about (Bookout) diving on the floor after this loose ball, and the other kid hit it out of bounds? I thought Kevin Bookout's will to win and his desire to win was a big part of this game today."

Credit also has to go to the Wildcats, who despite their lack of size inside became only the fourth team to outrebounded Oklahoma (31-27) this season.

"I thought Kansas State played great," said Sampson. "Coach (Jim) Woolridge had his team prepared to play and they're a tough matchup for us.

"But understand this — this team won at Kansas. This team had Texas dead to rights the other night. They've lost so many games against so many good teams that come down just like this."

In addition to Gray and Everett, junior guard Michael Neal was the only other Sooner to finish in double figures, despite a cold shooting performance by his standards. Neal finished with 15 points and was just 3-for-9 from beyond the arc.

With the win, Oklahoma improved to 19-6 overall 10-4 in Big 12 play. The win was also the Sooners' eighth straight against the Wildcats.

Next up for the Sooners is a showdown with Oklahoma State (15-13, 5-9) on ESPN Monday night in Norman. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m.

OU-KSU Box Score

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