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.