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November 30, 2012
Oklahoma athletics director Joe Castiglione stood from his courtside seat next to three sportswriters at the south end of Lloyd Noble Center to join the Sooners and OU men's basketball coach Lon Kruger at center court.
He was handed a microphone Friday night following Oklahoma's 69-65 win against Northwestern State (La.) and congratulated Kruger on a milestone most college coaches will never experience: win No. 500. Castiglione was proud of his coach, proud of the program he's building.HD: Kruger wins No. 500
"Well, we knew we hired a great coach in Lon Kruger," Castiglione told SoonerScoop.com. "We knew not only how successful he was in his career but how highly respected he was by everyone he ever knew in the game of basketball.
"Above his outstanding coaching, the incredible number of games he has won, he's really a great teacher of the game of basketball and utilizing it as a metaphor for life because not only have his teams won, they've always been highly respected in the way they won," Castiglione said.
What does it take for a collegiate men's basketball coach to win 500 games?
If your name is Lon Kruger and you're the coach at Oklahoma (6-1), it takes being in your 27th year of being collegiate head coach.
It takes 321 losses.
It takes years of learning to coach the game you love, the game you want others to love, and it takes one win against a Northwestern State team that stayed with your men the entire way.
The Sooners and Demons exchanged leads seven times and tied each other eight times.
NSU (3-3) seemed to be pulling away from the Sooners late in the game when Demon guard Jalan West hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give his team a 60-56 lead over OU with 7:03 left to play.
The game worsened for OU when senior forward Romero Osby fouled out with 5:35 remaining in the game, leaving the Sooners without their leading scorer and rebounder.
Osby finished the game with a team-high 11 points and eight rebounds.
Down 63-61 with 3:34 left to play the game seemed to be slipping away from the Sooners, but a timely 3-pointer by freshman guard Je'lon Hornbeak gave the Sooners a 64-63 lead with just over two minutes left to play. Oklahoma was able ride out the win with senior 2-guard Steven Pledger knocking down two clutch free-throws.
"We had some good defensive stops right there and a couple buckets in transition, which really helped us out," Kruger said. "To get Je'lon's shot in transition, to put Pledger at the line -- a lot of big plays there late to help us sneak out with a win."
Helping Kruger win the 500th game of his collegiate career was fulfilling for Osby, and he has the utmost respect for what his coach has accomplished.
"It's a testament to him and how hard he's worked and some of the rules he tries to teach us every day," Osby said. "It makes you have a lot of respect for a guy who has 500 wins, and if you get an opportunity to help him it's an honor."
Junior forward Amath M'Baye wanted this win for Kruger too.
M'Baye wanted it for the man who thought enough of his play at Wyoming to recruit him the moment he took the job at Oklahoma; for the man who gave him another opportunity to pursue his dream to play college basketball.
"I mean, that's a tremendous achievement for any coach in the country," M'Baye said after practice Thursday. "Just the fact that he's able to get into the 500 win club was just something I'm excited to be a part of and I think the whole team is excited to be a part of."