NORMAN — When a slumping player carries a team for a half, winning gets a whole lot easier. It happened for Oklahoma on Wednesday night in its 81-63 victory over Texas Tech at Lloyd Noble Center.
The slump belonged to forward Andrew Fitzgerald. The senior hadn’t scored in double figures since the season opener. In the 13 games since, he was shooting just 39.1 percent and hadn’t scored more than nine points in any of those games.
Something changed in the first half against the Red Raiders.
Fitzgerald pumped in 10 points before halftime en route to 12 points.
“I thought Andrew really carried us through that stretch,” OU coach Lon Kruger said,” he had a great stretch.”
The Sooners, who improved to 12-3 overall and 3-0 in the Big 12 Conference, needed every one of those baskets. They were the reason they buried the Red Raiders (8-7, 1-3) in the second half, instead of needing it to grab the lead.
Romero Osby, who led the Sooners with 17 points, scored 15 in the second half and was the unstoppable force Texas Tech had no answer for. The forward positioned himself on the block and wouldn’t budge.
“Coach and my teammates did a good job of running stuff for me and getting the ball to me in good spots. I was trying to post up deep so they wouldn’t have time to double-team me,” Osby said. “They found me in spots where I didn’t have to work too hard to make moves.”
It wasn’t that easy for Fitzgerald. He scored off of jump shots, put-backs and an occasional layup. Wednesday night, he looked like the player who had averaged over 12 points a game his sophomore and junior seasons instead of the one averaging 5.5.
“My coaches and my teammates have been trying to build my confidence up. The first couple games … well, the last couple games I was in a slump,” he said. “I guess today, I wasn’t really trying to score. I was trying to rebound and get it on the defensive end and whatever happens, happens. I’m really thankful the coaches did what they did to get me through this slump I’ve been going through.”
On the back of Fitzgerald, the Sooners held a 34-29 halftime lead. They extended it throughout the final 20 minutes.
Osby asserted himself and freshman guard Buddy Hield did the same, scoring 14 of his 16 points in the second half.
When it ended, OU had a very balanced stat sheet. Steven Pledger added 11 points and Cameron Clark came off the bench to add 10.
The Sooners shot 47.5 percent (28-for-59), but that effort was greatly aided by a 15-for-26 effort in the second half.
“We had better shots and more efficiency in the second half,” Kruger said. “We had some offensive boards that kept them from doing what they wanted to do defensively.”
The Red Raiders (8-7, 1-3) were led by Dejan Kravic’s 20-point, nine-rebound effort. Jaye Crockett added a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) off the bench. Texas Tech shot 42.4 percent (25-for-59).
The win was the Sooners’ fifth straight and gave them a 3-0 start to Big 12 Conference play for the first time since 2009. It’s a lot easier to do that when production comes from unexpected places.
“Good balance in scoring has been a trademark for this group at this point. That’s great,” Kruger said. “Defensively, it’s hard to sit on one or two scorers when you have a group of guys step up.”
Wednesday night it was Fitzgerald who made the leap.
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