By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Oklahoma’s string of ugly wins came to an end Tuesday night with an ugly 56-55 loss to Stephen F. Austin at Lloyd Noble Center.
The indelible image will be freshman guard Buddy Hield’s missed free-throw attempt to tie the game with 3.9 seconds left.
However, it shouldn’t be.
The Sooners’ mix of lethargic play and foul trouble manifested throughout the night. Making one more free throw would have only altered the feeling after another hideous offensive performance.
“We shouldn’t have put Buddy in that situation,” OU forward Romero Osby said. “We didn’t play well as a team. Defensively, we didn’t play like we wanted to. We can’t blame anyone but ourselves.”
The absence of Osby for half the game was crippling. The senior, who is the Sooners’ leading scorer and rebounder, only played 18 minutes due to foul trouble.
He picked up his third foul one minute into the second half and had to sit for the next 10 minutes. While Osby sat on the bench, the Lumberjacks chopped down the Sooners’ 30-26 halftime lead and built a double-digit advantage with an immediate 12-2 run.
“Ro is a guy I like having on the floor. When his minutes are limited with fouls, that makes a difference for sure, but that’s part of the game, too,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “We have to compensate for that. Other guys have to step up and play their minutes.”
That didn’t happen on Tuesday. Amath M’Baye scored just three points and grabbed three rebounds. Andrew Fitzgerald added six and two.
The Lumberjacks (8-1) outscored OU 34-12 in the paint. Taylor Smith led Stephen F. Austin with 14 points and got all of them around the rim.
The ability to finish around the rim haunted the Sooners from start to finish. They shot 37.9 percent (22-for-58). Nineteen of their 36 misses were within six feet of the basket. Hield, who scored nine points and pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds, missed a season’s worth of layups by himself, going 3-for-11.
Still, OU clawed its way back into the game, using a 12-0 that started midway through the second half and ended with Je’lon Hornbeak’s 3-pointer with 4:40 to go. The basket gave OU a 52-51 lead.
Hornbeak and Steven Pledger led OU with 12 points apiece. Pledger’s last basket came on a jumper from the corner with 2:28 left to tie the game.
It was the Sooners’ last make from the field.
Hal Bateman, who scored 13 points, hit a pair of free throws with 64 seconds left to give the Lumberjacks the lead for good.
Stephen F. Austin didn’t win because it shot lights out. It connected on just 24 of 61 attempts. But it kept OU (7-3) from running or getting any easy baskets. That is the Lumberjacks’ calling card. They lead the nation in scoring defense (49.5 points a game).
“This is how you beat teams that are bigger, stronger and faster,” Stephen F. Austin coach Danny Kaspar said. “You don’t get in a running game with them. You just ride it out and hope you have a chance to win in the end. We got a Christmas present when he missed that free throw.”
Nonetheless, it wasn’t a missed free throw that doomed the Sooners. Prior to Tuesday, they made a habit of winning ugly games. This time they ran into a team that’s better at it than they are.
John ShinnFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org
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