NORMAN — Oklahoma point guard Sam Grooms played like he was on a redemptive mission Saturday. It wasn’t the jump shots he made or even the 19 points he scored in the Sooners’ 86-69 victory over Iowa State Saturday that mattered most.
The senior wanted to prove he can still keep his team clear of trouble in the harshest of circumstances.
“I had a lot to prove. I’m pretty sure my teammates believe in me. But, by the same token I don’t want them to ever second-guess me, think that Sam will turn the ball under pressure. I don’t want them to ever feel that way,” Grooms said. “I wanted to come out here and play as hard as I could and show them that I could bounce back from it. This is the real way Sam plays.”
If the “real” Grooms keeps playing like he did Saturday, the Sooners (19-9, 10-6 Big 12) could be one of the best offensive teams in the Big 12 Conference.
Saturday’s victory was OU’s fifth straight game with at least 79 points, and fourth in a row with 80 or more on the scoreboard. There’s a lot of factors that have contributed to the scoring outburst. The NCAA record-tying 34-for-34 performance from the free-throw line had a major impact, but there were other factors like the 17 assists, with six coming from Grooms’ hands.
“Guys have done a good job of moving the ball and handling it. That starts with Sam, of course,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “He did a terrific job again today. We expect that to continue. It’s nice to see that happen for him.”
Grooms took the loss to Texas last Wednesday especially hard. It was a total team collapse that caused the Sooners to blow a 22-point lead with less than eight minutes to go. Grooms, however, saw it as failure in his ability to direct the Sooners. He was only credited with four of the Sooners’ 16 turnovers. Nonetheless, the Sooners went into a free-fall and he couldn’t pull them out of it once Texas unleashed a frenetic press.
Grooms watched the game tape several times with the team and a few more on his own. Those last seven minutes were excruciating to watch.
“I would watch and get to the point in time where we’d turn it over, and I’d turn it off and get mad. And then I’d be like, I can’t do that. I’ve gotta finish watching it. I’d get through two more possessions and turn it off again,” Grooms said. “I’ve watched a lot of tape since I’ve been here. That’s the biggest thing that’s helped me out. I was livid, I’ll be honest, I was pissed.”
Irritation turned into determination against the Cyclones.
Iowa State went with the same press about 15 minutes into OU’s game. The Sooners didn’t bat an eye. Grooms weaved his way through it and they cruised to a win that secured the program’s first winning record in Big 12 play since 2009.
OU enters the final week of the regular season in position to improve its seed for the NCAA Tournament instead of securing it. There’s still a chance OU could finish as high as third in the Big 12 standings if it beats West Virginia at Lloyd Noble Center Wednesday and wins at TCU Saturday. The Sooners will be favored to accomplish the tasks. They’ve moved into that position because Grooms has led them there.
“What happened in Texas... It happened,” Grooms said. “But I don’t want them to ever think about it.”
After Saturday, there’s no need to worry.
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