By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
WACO, Texas — After watching his team stumble through one of its ugliest halves of the season, Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger had one message for his team: it could be worse and it probably should have been. Only trailing No. 12 Baylor by six points felt like a gift.
About 90 minutes later, the 25th-ranked Sooners were winning and celebrating after knocking off the Bears 66-64 at Ferrell Center.
“You feel really good any time you can win a game on the road. To do it against a really good Baylor club is even better,” Kruger said.
The victory was big on multiple levels. It was the program’s first road win over a team ranked No. 12 or higher in 21 years. Also, it ended a brutal five-game stretch to begin conference play that included three road games and four contests against ranked or previously-ranked teams. OU (14-4, 3-2 Big 12) won three of them with the Baylor victory joining wins over No. 8 Iowa State and Texas.
But how it won Saturday was completely different.
OU managed to hang in the first half when it could hardly get a shot to fall. The team that had led the Big 12 in scoring coming into the game — the Sooners — seemed lost in the first 20 minutes. They settled for contested jump shots against Baylor’s zone and couldn’t get anywhere near the rim.
The Sooners’ 23.3 percent first-half shooting was their coldest stretch of the season. OU stayed in the game strictly with defense. Baylor led 30-24 at halftime.
That was the turnaround for the Sooners. Getting stops was their Achilles’ heel through the first 18 games. Saturday it was their strength.
It also helped that Buddy Hield and Cameron Clark caught fire in the second half. Hield scored a game-high 19 points, all of it in the final 20 minutes. Clark scored 10 of his 12 points after intermission.
“My coaches were confident in me and told me I needed to make shots. They told me to keep shooting the ball and that gave me confidence,” Hield said. “My teammates found me in good scoring spots and I was able to fill it up.”
Hield helped ignite a 16-2 run for the Sooners to start the second half. They built their lead up to as many as eight points.
Baylor (13-4, 1-3) took the lead back once on Cory Jefferson’s layup with 9 minutes remaining. OU’s answer: a Hield three-point play. OU never trailed again.
“I think we just fought,” said OU forward Ryan Spangler, who finished with seven points and nine rebounds. “We’ve been close the last two or three games that we let go. Today we finally finished it.”
The Sooners’ lead was up to seven with 29 seconds left. Baylor’s Isaiah Austin hit two 3-pointers in the closing seconds and OU point guard Jordan Woodard missed two critical free throws in the final 20 seconds that could have iced the game.
Nonetheless, the Sooners were able to get the last stop. Clark tipped away a pass from Baylor’s Royce O’Neale intended for Austin.
“I kind of helped and got a deflection,” Clark said.
The scrum for the ball allowed time to expire. Baylor couldn’t get off a shot before the buzzer sounded.
The Bears shot 40.7 percent (24 for 59) and were held to 6-for-20 shooting beyond the 3-point line.
Point guard Kenny Chery led Baylor with 16 points and five assists. Austin added 12 to go with nine rebounds.
The Sooners only shot 39.3 percent (22 for 56) and were 7 of 26 from beyond the arc. The difference in the game came at the free-throw line. OU was 15 for 20. Baylor was 10 for 20.
It happened because the Sooners didn’t let a cold-shooting half sink them. They’ve grown up a little since Big 12 Conference play began and it showed.
Follow me @john_shinn
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