It was a matchup of two of the conferences marquee coaches. With 31 NCAA tournament appearances between them, Tubby Smith and Lon Kruger faced off. Still, Kruger possessed much more talent than Smith, who is in his inaugural season, and was expected to win fairly easily. Unfortunately, the opposite happened. Smith’s team dominated pretty much the entire way and fended off a late Sooner surge to stun Oklahoma and Kruger at home, 68-60.
Cameron Clark led the Sooners with 16 points, and scored their first 10. After Clark wasforced out of the game due to suffering what appeared to be a cut, the Red Raiders proceeded to bludgeon the Sooners with blow after blow. Tech went on a 10-0 run to take a 20-10 lead, and even when Clark returned, the Sooners looked hopelessly lost. The Tech lead sponged to 17, but the Sooners were able to trim that to a respectable 16 by halftime. Overall, the Sooners had shot 28% and ended the half with just 21 points.
Surely, it couldn’t get much worse. Yet, it did. Oklahoma continued to throw up ill-advised three after ill-advised three and watched as the Tech lead grew to 20. Oklahoma missed 19 of their first 22 attempts from long range until Frank Booker nailed a three that marked the beginning of a monumental comeback attempt. Tyler Neal then proceeded to nail and three, and Booker nailed another one so deep that the ocean would be jealous. Just like that, the Sooners had timed the lead to 13. After Je’lon Hornbeak made a layup to make it an 11 point game, Tech called a timeout.
Out of the timeout, Hornbeak was relentless, scoring seven of Oklahoma’s next ten points on his way to cutting the deficit to just three. With seven and a half minutes to play, it looked as if Oklahoma had finally had enough, and was finally ready to start playing like the better team and win the game. Unfortunately, from that point on Oklahoma struggled to get over the hump, and made a few costly mistakes in crunch time. One particular that stuck out was this: after a steal and a fastbreak which put Oklahoma in a three on two situation, Cousins tried to make a lob to Clark for an alley-oop; however, Clark was covered by a defender and could only watch helplessly as the ball sailed out of bounds, and any chance the Sooners had of further trimming the lead was squandered.
This kind of epitomizes the way the game went for the Sooners. Oklahoma turned the ball over a total of 14 times on the evening, and completely faltered under the pressure of the Tech press. It was the first time all season where Jordan Woodard looked frustrated and out of control, and it showed as he turned the ball over four times. Buddy Hield also committed four turnovers in addition to shooting 1-for-13 from the floor and 1-for-10 from three. However, if there were ever a bright spot in such an egregious and embarrassing loss, it had to be Je’lon Hornbeak. Hornbeak was a constant for the Sooners his freshman season, but has struggled to find a groove after suffering several injuries this season. He came in and provided nine points in 27 minutes off the bench tonight, and was a big part of the comeback that got Oklahoma to within three. He also led the Sooners in assists with four. If Hornbeak can find some consistency, this team instantly becomes more dangerous.
Overall, it was a frustrating loss, but the Sooners can rebound. There are some winnable games in the near future, so hopefully Oklahoma can close out on a high note as the Big 12 Tournament looms.
Next up, Oklahoma (18-7, 7-5) will be in Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State (16-8, 4-7) in a matchup that will not feature Marcus Smart. Tip-off is set for 1 PM CST on Saturday, Feb. 15.
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