So close, but yet, so far. That pretty much sums up the feelings from Sooner fans after witnessing yet another single-digit loss in conference play. The Oklahoma Sooners nearly had it Tuesday against the fourth-ranked Missouri Tigers, but in the end fell, 71-68.
The final four minutes were as exciting as you’ll see in a basketball game. Every fan was on their feet, and even the ones that weren’t were on the edge of their seats biting their nails. The Sooners were down 66-58 with just 4 minutes to play. Hope of a comeback seemed to be waning, and they desperately needed a momentum shifting play to get the crowd back in it. Carl Blair delivered one with a perfect three ball, followed by a Steven Pledger trey, and within a 30 second span, the Sooners were back in it, down 66-64. Marcus Denmon answered with a deuce for the Tigers, Sam Grooms and Romero Osby each split their free throws, leaving the deficit at two with under a minute to play.
It was now crunch time.
Unfortunately for the Sooners it was Kim English that came up much in the clutch, nailing a three pointer to give the Tigers a five point edge with under a minute to go, a shot that could probably be defined as the “nail in the coffin”. Though Andrew Fitzgerald was fouled going up for a layup and the ensuing Sooner possession, sank both free throws to almost resurrect the Sooners’ hopes. Though the chances were slim, they would need another defensive stop and hope to tie up the game with a desperation three. The defense held rock solid, and now the outcome was in the Sooners hands. With four seconds remaining, they called timeout to set up a play.
On the in bounds play, Missouri implemented the clever tactic of fouling right away to prevent a potential game tying three. Turns out the Sooners would get one anyways. Romero Osby missed the first free shot, and intentionally missed the second, which was tipped back to Steven Pledger, the Sooners most efficient three point shooter, hitting 46% of shots from beyond the arc this season. You could not have asked for a more perfect scenario if you were Oklahoma, something big was about to happen. Fans held their breath as Pledger put up a three in one motion, for a second, it looked as if it might fall, but instead it clanked of the rim as the dejected Pledger slunk down to the hardwood.
Again, the Sooners had come up so close within the final seconds of the game, only to watch it fall out of their grasp.
The obvious blame has to go to the free throw shooting. Oklahoma shot just 39% from the stripe tonight and failed to knock down free throws in the clutch. All in all, the Sooners were a pitiful 9-23 shooting freebies tonight. Anytime that happens and you lose a close game, it’s incredibly difficult to pinpoint anything but the free throw shooting as the reason for the loss.
Steven Pledger led the team in scoring, as per usual, with 22 points on 5-9 from three. He also grabbed five boards and swiped two steals.
What was an anomaly though was the scoring production out of Sam Grooms. He shot 7-9 from the field to record a career high 17 points and also dished out 10 assists to chalk up a double-double performance. For his unusually spectacular night scoring, as well as consistency in doing what he normally does, Grooms gets the Sooner Playr of the Game.
Other key contributors for the Sooners were Andrew Fitzgerald with 12 points, Romero Osby with nine and also six rebounds, and CJ Washington who provided solid minutes off the bench to lead the team in rebounding with seven.
Overall, there is not much to say that has not already been said. With this loss, the pain of Sooners fans was felt throughout Sooner Nation, as the Sooners can likely now kiss their tournament hopes goodbye, barring an amazing run to end the year. It’s a bittersweet season for Sooners, who though are happy to finally see their team within a reasonable margin ball games, are also unhappy to see their team on the wrong end of those close ones.
Want more Sooner hoops? Follow me on Twitter @ChandlerVessels