The Norman Transcript

January 24, 2014

Sooners settling into the habit of winning tight games

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — After 19 games, Oklahoma seems to have found a comfort zone. Being in a tight game decided on the last few possessions has been the case in its last seven games, including Wednesday night’s 77-69 victory over TCU.

The win was the seventh straight game OU has played that was decided by eight points or less.

“Every game is a battle for us because we’re the underdog and we have to prove something,” OU guard Isaiah Cousins said. “I kinda like those tight games.”

Being able to pull out tough, down-to-the-wire wins has its benefits. OU coach Lon Kruger thought his team’s play in the last three minutes was the best of the night. It’s hard to argue against that thinking.

It’s easy to see that OU was in it because it lapsed a couple minutes earlier after building a 10-point lead against a team that hadn’t won a conference game. But OU let the Horned Frogs up off the deck.

“When you’re up 10 you would like to have the next couple of possessions kind of widen the gap. Each time we were up 10 there it seemed like we would have a poor possession, they would knock down the 3 and it’s a four- or five-point ball game,” Kruger said. “We have got to try and make better plays during that time. It’s good to have a margin, but then you have to maintain it and widen it out a little bit better.”

That’s the next step the 25th-ranked Sooners (15-4, 4-2 Big 12) need to take. A good time to do it would be at 3 p.m. Saturday when they face Texas Tech (10-9, 2-4) at United Spirit Arena in Lubbock, Texas.

If the Big 12 isn’t the toughest conference in college basketball this season, it’s certainly acting like it. The five ranked teams are hard to argue with. Winning games is going to require playing well in the last minutes. There just aren’t going to be many opportunities for blowout wins.

But Wednesday’s game was a chance to at least win comfortably and not have to spend the final minutes sweating out every possession.

No one knows when that opportunity will come up again. The Sooners’ average margin of victory this season is just a shade under seven points (84.3-77.5) a game. In Big 12 games, the average is less than a point (77.8-77.0).

“I guess we are getting better at playing in tight games, but we wouldn’t want it like that. We need to work on finishing. We always start out with the lead, and at the end of the first half we have been giving up leads. That is something we have been working on,” forward Ryan Spangler said. “Coach (Kruger) has been telling us, just that at the end of games we have been giving up leads, too and trying to make it hard on ourselves. If we just learn to play at the end of halves we will be fine.”

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn

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