NORMAN — The opening tip foreshadowed how the rest of the game played out. Referee John Higgins threw the ball up and promptly got smacked in the mouth.
Oklahoma’s 69-65 victory over Northwestern (La.) State Friday night at Lloyd Noble Center was a bruising affair. Anyone who got near the paint with the ball paid a price for it.
“It was really physical, but I guess most of our games have been like that,” said forward Romero Osby, who led the Sooners with 11 points and eight rebounds. “I guess that’s why it was such a low-scoring game because it was physical on both ends. We tried to make them pay if they got passed somebody, and they were doing the same with us.”
Osby was just 1 for 8 from the field. Nine of his points came from the free-throw line. OU escaped because it was able to get to the charity stripe 28 times and converted 20 of them. The Demons (3-3) were 15 for 18 from the free-throw line.
The game’s largest lead was just seven points, but Northwestern State was up by six after Shamir Davis, who scored 10 points hit a pair of free throws with 5:35 to go.
OU didn’t give up another point until Brinson White hit a layup with 28 seconds left.
“You have to credit OU because they were so aggressive defensively,” Northwestern State coach Mike McConathy said. “Everyone I talked to said OU’s as tough and plays as hard a defense as anyone they’ve seen in a long time. I felt we did a great job to be right there with them.”
Jalan West led the Demons, who shot 37.9 percent (22 for 58) with 13 points.
Defense alone wasn’t going to be enough to allow OU to pull out another win. It shot 39.3 percent (22 for 56).
“It was a game where we were heading up hill all night long. It was tough trying to get a hold of it and never really did,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “We were down late and got some good defensive stops and a couple baskets in transition that really helped us out.”
Those baskets included Je’lon Horbeak’s 3-pointer with 2:12 remaining that gave the Sooners a 64-63 lead. With 54 seconds to go, Amath M’Baye completed an alley-oop from Steve Pledger to lift the lead up to 66-63.
“The way it’s been going, every other game it seems like me or Je’lon hit a big 3 late,” Pledger said. “It’s just that one shot that seems to spark us and finish games off.”
Pledger and point guard Isaiah Cousins both had nine points. Andrew Fitzgerald and M’Baye finished with eight and Hornbeak tossed in seven.
The game was very similar to OU’s 63-62 victory at Oral Roberts on Wednesday. Pledger sank a 3 with less than 3 minutes to go that gave OU the lead.
The Sooners needed it. Once again, it was able to turn a sluggish game into a victory.
“We’re obviously searching right now to score points and we are not shooting for a very good percentage and not moving the ball very well, so we have to keep searching,” Kruger said. “It’s nice to win games while we are learning and while we’re searching, but we have to play better.”
John ShinnFollow me @email@example.com