NORMAN — Just maybe, this is the one that finally takes. Maybe, this time it’s different.
Before the season began, second-year Sooner coach Lon Kruger welcomed NCAA tournament expectations. Saturday afternoon at Lloyd Noble Center, his team put on a Bedlam performance that reinforced the notion.
Not for the first time, because winning in Morgantown, W.V. eight days ago was no small thing.
Saturday, though, was bigger.
Saturday, Oklahoma was led by a freshman, Buddy Hield, as much as anybody else.
Saturday, Amath M’Baye came up with three straight baskets when the Sooners needed them, so maybe he’s finally on to something, too.
Saturday, a crowd of almost 9,000 — no, not what Bedlam used to draw, but a whole lot better than anything’s been in a good long while — cheered almost lustily, desperate to watch something old, like great Sooner basketball, become new again. And with a 77-68 victory, the Sooners delivered, sending the fans home happy, quite possibly looking forward to the next chance to come watch.
So OU’s back?
Perhaps not yet, but it’s a whole lot closer. It’s a whole lot closer and building, too. Nobody wants the embarrassment of prematurely predicting the Sooners’ matriculation, but this has to be close to what everybody’s been looking for.
“They made plays, they played harder,” Oklahoma State’s Markel Brown said. “They did what they had to do to get the win.”
They did, but there was even more to Brown’s answer than that on Bedlam Saturday, because it referenced a particular point in the game, the moments after Le’Bryan Nash canned two free throws to bring the Pokes within a bucket, 52-50, with 9:34 remaining, when OU had let a 14-point lead dwindle to a measly two, waking echoes of so many games last season when Kruger’s first Sooner team would be in good shape until it wasn’t, almost always in the second half, before losing going away.
So Steven Pledger came down and hit a 3-pointer. Bang. Then Brown answered with two free throws to make it a three-point game. Then Pledger was fouled trying to hit another 3-pointer and hit all his free throws.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
Never again was OSU within a basket.
Yes, there was more.
There was Hield, who looks like the first Sooner freshman to graduate beyond rookie status, making big play after big play: turning nothing into something with a nifty alley-oop dish to Romero Osby to beat the first-half buzzer, a baseline drive to open the second half the way the first one ended and a falling-down, hand-in-face 3-pointer that followed Pledger’s three free throws that kept the good times rolling.
Then M’Baye made certain the Pokes were done, making a six-point game a nine-point game with a 3-pointer that put OU up 66-57 with 5:36 remaining, followed by a layup on a dish from Sam Grooms, followed by an alley-oop slam that made it 70-57 with 4 minutes to play, also assisted by Grooms.
M’Baye was asked about his personal seven-point run, but he disagreed with the premise.
“That seven-point stretch wasn’t mine, it was the team’s,” he said. “I thought the team did a great job.”
It’s just want you want to hear from one of the newcomers who’s taken a previous starter’s spot, and M’Baye is one of three starters in that boat. Because you want a humble team and a team that gets along well and the Sooners seem to have that going for them, too.
They’ve got Texas Tech at home next, and only a big letdown should rob them from victory there. Then they’re at Kansas State, OU won’t be favored but it’s winnable. Then Texas back home and the Longhorns are a mess.
It seems like the start of something. And like the fans might even be getting back on board, too.
Saturday was a good day for Sooner basketball.
Clay HorningFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org