Guards Brandon Mouton and Royal Ivey scored 14 points each, point guard T.J. Ford got downright defensive against G Hollis Price (probably the most clutch player in college basketball) while C James Thomas established himself early as chairman of the boards, grabbing 16 rebounds.
"Our guys stayed together, stayed poised, and it was a big win," said Barnes, who saw his club extend its home winning streak to 12. "Both teams played their hearts out."
The Horns got their post players involved early as Texas jumped to a 6-3 lead from a pair of freshman F Brad Buckman layups and a Thomas jump shot. The lead would extend to 14, Texas' largest of the game, when Ivey's layup made it 28-14 with 7:48 remaining until intermission.
But Price would launch a 12-1 run when he drained back-to-back treys as the Sooners fought back, 31-28, with just more than two minutes remaining. The senior would lead all scorers with 23 points on an 8-of-16 shooting night, including a scorching 5-of-10 from beyond the arch. He nailed his fourth consecutive three-pointer by calmly swishing one at the buzzer to end the first half.
Texas led 36-31 and Price had 19 of those points for the Sooners. In the second half, Ford (instead of Ivey) guarded Price. Barnes said defending Hollis with Ford was part of the game plan from the outset and was not indicative of poor defensive play on Ivey's part.
"In the back of my mind, I knew I could play defense," said Ford, who had a relatively off-night offensively with eight points (2-of-10, 4-of-4 FT), seven assists and no field goals in the second half. "My offense wasn't on, but I made up for it defensively," the sophomore point guard said. "It was tough guarding Hollis. He had to work for every shot and I had to work for every shot."
From a purely objective point of view (and that would include none of us), it was a basketball purist's dream to see Price and Ford go at it. Their individual performances drew high remarks from OU head coach Kelvin Sampson.
"You put them together and they're about the size of (6-8, Freshman F Kevin) Bookout's leg," Sampson said. "But you put Hollis and T.J. against each other and they could play forever. They compete so hard. They're both warriors."
The Sooners kept chipping away at the Texas lead until G Ebi Ere's three-pointer gave his team its first lead, 43-42, with just under 15 minutes remaining. The Sooners held the lead for nearly eight agonizing minutes as both teams turned up the defensive heat. Mouton's trey at the 8:14 mark broke the scoring drought as Texas regained the lead, 50-48. Neither team scored for another three minutes until Ivey's jumper gave Texas a four-point cushion near the five-minute mark.
"When we got down, I told the guys to stay focused and stay together because, down the stretch, we were going to need everybody." Ivey said. "We knew that, deep down inside, if we played for 40 minutes, we could beat them."
Oklahoma cut the lead to one on yet another Price three-pointer with 1:29 remaining. Texas called time-out with 1:29 remaining with the Erwin Center faithful uncertain whether to brace itself for euphoria or heartbreak. Instead, Barnes may have caught the Sooners off-guard by doing the unexpected: he called a play designed for reserve F Jason Klotz (the same sophomore that Barnes intimated was ‘soft' after the league-opener against Iowa State).
Klotz was 3-of-4 from the field and 2-of-4 from the stripe, but no bucket was bigger than the one he nailed with 70 seconds remaining, as Texas never looked back.
"I'm really proud of Jason," Barnes said. "It was the first time since I've been here that, coming off of a time-out, that we went to Jason. I told him on the sideline, ‘We're going to you, and you're going to have to come through for us.'"
The game was still a toss-up, though, when Johnnie Gilbert's dunk trimmed the Texas lead to 63-61 with 31 seconds left. From there, Ford and Thomas calmly sank free throws to finish the scoring.
In this one, the Horns showed they could win a close one when the game is on the line with two minutes remaining. Texas dropped games this season to Arizona, Kansas, Notre Dame and Colorado that were lost in the final two minutes.
For Sampson, this one was lost at the free throw line. Neither team shot lights out from the charity stripe (Texas was 12-of-20; OU was 10-15, but failed to connect on the front end of a trio of one-and-ones late in the game).
"Tonight, our free throws let us down in the stretch," Sampson said. "In a close game, with two teams as close as these are, it's the little things like that that make the difference."
The difference was also rebounding, as Texas won the battle of the boards, 43-34, and forced 14 turnovers.
Can Texas now post an eight-game winning streak?
"Anything is possible," Sampson shrugged.
Texas, having knocked off four nationally ranked teams this season, travels to Big 12 bottom-feeder Nebraska Saturday, for a 12:45 p.m. (CST) tip-off. The game is slated for an ESPN+ telecast.