NORMAN — Oklahoma can take a lot of positives away from Wednesday night’s 86-71 victory over Texas Tech.
It shot the ball extremely well. The point total was a season high, and the 53.3-percent shooting percentage marked just the third time OU has made more than it has missed this season.
The major reason all those came to fruition was the play of Steven Pledger, Romero Osby, Amath M’Baye, Sam Grooms and Cameron Clark. They scored 70 of the Sooners’ points.
It’s hard to ignore what they have in common — all five are juniors or older.
OU coach Lon Kruger didn’t downplay the significance of their experience after Wednesday night’s victory.
“They’ve been in this situation before and they’re comfortable because they know how tough it is,” he said. “I think that’s all part of it.”
The experience was needed against the Red Raiders. OU (17-8, 8-5 Big 12) was able to hold off a couple Texas Tech (9-15, 2-11) rallies and it also overcame a tough night from freshmen guards Je’lon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins.
Hornbeak suffered a minor ankle injury in the second half and only played 17 minutes. OU coach Lon Kruger said Hornbeak could have returned to the game if needed. However, Hornbeak was just 1 for 6 from the field.
The decision to play Cousins for just 10 minutes was strictly Kruger’s. He struggled with four turnovers (all steals that resulted in a layups by Texas Tech guard Josh Gray) and only took one shot (a miss).
Cousins’ body language after giving up back-to-back steals to Gray midway through the second half spoke volumes. Kruger had to get him out of the game.
Grooms, a senior, fully understood what Cousins was going through.
“Being a point guard, it's tough. If he was out there making plays and everything was going right, everybody would have praised him,” Grooms said. “I had to explain to him, it's tough right now. It’s not as bad as it looks. He made a couple mistakes. Now he's got to regroup and understand that tomorrow he has to get better. I tried to pick him up as much as I could, because I've been there before. I've been there.”
Grooms, who Kruger said will get the start against Baylor on Saturday, has experienced those tough nights before. Wednesday night marked his 56th career game at OU after coming to the Sooners in 2011 as a junior college transfer.
He was benched earlier in the conference season because his play wasn’t up to par. With the exception of Osby, all five of those upperclassmen have seen critical plays in critical games occur while on the bench. Kruger has always been willing to ride the hot hand at any time.
Wednesday it was three seniors and two juniors. Don’t be surprised if it stays that way for the near future. Each of OU’s five remaining regular-season games will greatly impact its chances of making the NCAA Tournament — positively or negatively.
“There’s a lot work left to do,” Kruger said. “I think the most important thing is they understand there’s still a long way to go and lot of work left to do.”
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