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November 28, 2012
TULSA, Okla. -- Sometimes, you just have to scrap.
Sometimes, a fight has to break out and you have to find out how good you are in a bad day. Those are the days you find out the most about yourself, the days you're most proud of yourself.
The Sooners found out a little more about themselves Wednesday night against Oral Roberts.
For the first 35 minutes of their game against ORU, the Sooners were beaten on the boards, beaten in the paint, beaten on the scoreboard.
At one point during Oklahoma's 63-62 victory, the Sooners were down 54-44 with 9:08 left in the second half. They didn't seem likely to be the team to break ORU's 24-game home win-streak, and the Golden Eagles (3-4) didn't seem likely to lose at the Mabee Center.
ORU was confident on the dribble and stroked freely and easily. Oklahoma (5-1) looked frantic, erratic and flustered.
"I thought Coach Sutton's team played much better than we did throughout the 40 minutes, and when they were up 10 I thought our guys did toughen up defensively there and have some nice stops and converted in transition," Lon Kruger said. "I thought ORU really outplayed us for the most part."
Warren Niles certainly outplayed OU's backcourt. The 6-foot-5 senior guard scored big in ORU's first three games of the season with totals of 29, 26 and 33 points.
Niles scored 12 points in the first half against OU and finished with 21 points on 8 of 17 shooting, and scored five more points than freshman guards Isaiah Cousins, Je'lon Hornbeak and Buddy Hield combined.
"First half, the looks that (Niles) had were pretty much in rhythm," Kruger said. "Still, as good a shooter as he is, we needed to work a little harder on him."
Cousins, Hield and Hornbeak were each given an opportunity to put the shackles on Niles but couldn't. Junior guard Cameron Clark and senior point guard Sam Grooms were called upon to lock him up, and they too came up short.
Hield, junior forward Amath M'Baye and senior forward Romero Osby were the only Sooners to score double digits for OU. M'Baye led the Sooners in scoring with 12 points on 6-of-13 shooting and added a game-high nine boards.
Oral Roberts outshot Oklahoma from the floor and beat the Sooners on the defensive boards 23-19 in the game.
"I thought ORU just did what they wanted to," Kruger said. "The first half, especially, they shot it for a great percentage. We didn't offer much resistance there.? They rebounded the ball much better than we did."
Kruger said he thought his team came out of its game against West Virginia last Sunday a much more physical team, but a more physical OU didn't show up until late in the second when Osby took a charge and scored a much needed bucket to make the score 54-48 with 8:17 remaining in the game.
The second-year OU coach felt fortunate to win another close game on the road and said he'll use this win -- like the win against Texas-Arlington -- as a teaching tool. He admitted he'd like to see the Sooners have games under better control late, though.
He's endured close wins against four of Oklahoma's six opponents this season.
"Tight games late this early in the season are great to learn from," he said. "You can't simulate those situations in practice, whether it be going to the line or executing a play or getting a defensive stop, big board."
Hield, who was held scoreless in the first half, later followed with a steal and a basket to tie the game at 56-56 with 4:53 remaining. The Sooners would need all 11 buckets he produced in the second half and a little something extra.
That little something extra came from senior 2-guard Steven Pledger.
His clutch floater gave Oklahoma its first lead at 61-60 since the 18:10 mark of the first half. Another Pledger jumper allowed the Sooners to stretch their lead to 63-60 and earn the win.
"I think this team has a great ability to show up in the clutch," M'Baye said. "This is the second game in a row where it's kind of close at the end, and the freshmen stepped up. Everybody stepped up."
M'Baye said he didn't know what kicked in for them in the second half, and he knows OU won't win too many more games where it doesn't play its best basketball.
"I'll take the 'W' any day of the week, and that's something we need. That's something we love," he said.