By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Oklahoma knows all too well how tough it is to win in February. Its last 24 games in the month have resulted in just three wins. Games like Saturday’s against No. 18 Kansas State at Lloyd Noble Center exemplify why it can be so hard.
The Sooners’ 52-50 loss to the Wildcats was one of those games that it took more guts than gusto to win.
“We guarded; they guarded,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. “We made enough plays when it counted.”
On the offensive end, there weren’t many of them. Both teams struggled to get any sort of offensive flow going. Every shot, pass and even cut through the lane was vigorously contested on both ends.
The Sooners, who dropped to 14-6 overall and 5-3 in the Big 12 Conference, handled it a little worse.
“We had trouble getting separation and trouble scoring,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “Credit Kansas State; they were a better club and deserved to win.”
Getting shots wasn’t OU’s biggest problem; making them was. It went 10 minutes and 40 seconds without a point during a stretch late in the first half through the beginning of the second half. Kansas State (17-4, 6-2) only managed to go on 6-0 run during the Sooners’ offensive futility.
Still, going over a quarter of the game without scoring a single point was demoralizing.
“You realize it, but can’t dwell on it. You realize you have to get a stop and go at them again on the offensive end. We had a lot of opportunities and shots didn’t fall,” said OU forward Romero Osby, who scored a game-high 13 points.
Percentage wise, OU actually outshot the Wildcats. It was 19 for 49 from the field (38.8 percent). Kansas State shot 37.5 percent (21 for 56). Kansas State made five 3-pointers, which was two more than the Sooners. OU negated that narrow edge at the free-throw line.
What OU couldn’t overcome were the 14 turnovers it committed.
Kruger shuffled his backcourt throughout the game to find something that resembled success against the Wildcats. Starting guards Steven Pledger and Je’lon Hornbeak spent more than half the game on the bench and combined for just two points. Freshman guard Isaiah Cousins made two of OU’s three 3-pointers and Sam Grooms, who didn’t play at all in the first half, wound up being the Sooners’ go-to player in the final minutes.
“Sam gave us a good spark,” Kruger said. “He gave us some attack and we didn’t have much attack. Sam got it going downhill a couple of times and we needed that. He gave us a good lift when he went in the ball game. He made some nice plays.”
The two biggest were a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 55 seconds left that cut Kansas State’s lead to 50-48. Grooms made another with a driving layup with 13 seconds that tied the game for the first time since the 7:30 mark in the first half.
But winning required one more play and Kansas State’s Angel Rodriguez blew by Grooms to make it.
The Wildcats’ point guard darted by Grooms and into the body of OU forward Amath M’Baye to get to the free-throw line with 5 seconds left. Rodriguez made both free throws.
“I was expecting the ball screen,” Grooms said. “They had been running them all night, and he had been going right. He went left. He beat me. Credit him.”
Grooms got off the Sooners’ last gasp — a contested 25-footer at the buzzer — but it was short. Another stretch of February games starts with another brutally tough loss.
The Sooners, who haven’t had a losing streak all season, face Iowa State at 6 p.m., Monday at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. They’ll go there with the full knowledge of just how hard it can be to win conference games at this point in the season.
“Today’s reminder is that we still have a ways to go,” Kruger said.
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