OU's perimeter shooting finally paid dividends against VCU, and no player was more pivotal in that success that Tony Crocker.
Crocker, who was only shooting 34 percent (28-82) from the field coming into Saturday night, led the Sooners with a career high 26 points on 8–13 shooting (62 %), as the Sooners knocked off VCU 81-70 in the 73rd All College Classic.
"It felt good out there," Crocker said. "It always feels good when the shots are falling. They pressured a lot and scrambled a lot which left people open and we knew we had to hit them when we got the chance."
The team's third leading scorer from a year ago, and fourth this season, most OU fans had come to terms with Crocker being just another role player in the OU offense.
One person who felt otherwise though was Head Coach Jeff Capel, who for two years now has said that Crocker is capable of playing better, a lot better.
"I believe in the kid so much, and I love coaching him," Capel said. "Just how he works and how he approaches it. I'm not saying he does everything the right way, but in huddles he looks you right in the eye. That means the kid believes. Even when he was struggling, I believed in him so much because I've seen him do so many good things and I knew it was only a matter of time.
Crocker wasn't the only one lighting it up from downtown Saturday evening, Oklahoma as a team finally broke free from its season long woes behind the perimeter, nailing 10-16 (62.5 percent) 3-pointers on the night, the best performance in over a year.
The closest the Sooners got to shooting 60 percent from behind the arc in '08, was against Denver when Oklahoma hit 13 of its 23 rain makers (57 percent).
So what caused the air assault? VCU's zone defense.
Early on the Rams 3-2 zone bothered Oklahoma's offense, limiting forward Blake Griffin's quality looks at the basket.
The front court collapse on Griffin only opened up the Sooner guards.
With the score tied at 28-28, both Blake and Taylor Griffin began sucking in the VCU defense down low before finding an open man, beginning with Austin Johnson's 3-pointer at 5:20 left in the opening half.
Johnson's trey put OU up 31-28. Three minutes later Taylor Griffin found Tony Crocker, whose long ball gave the Sooners a 39-33 lead with 1:08 remaining. 32 seconds later it was Crocker again, this time off a Willie Warren hand off, nailing a trey with 36 seconds left in the half, sealing a 14-5 run to end the half while sending the Sooners into the locker rooms with a 42-33 lead.
"Well we didn't rebound well in the first half," Capel said. "One of the things we were emphasizing was rebounding. When we rebound, usually good things happen for us. I thought we did a good job of closing out the half, and we did it because we got stops and we were able to get in transition."
After the late first half run, what life the Rams still had left, was quickly sucked out.
Proving that it could put together a complete game in all areas, perhaps the only thing Capel had to complain about all night was the way his team closed out the contest.
Holding a 75-56 lead with 5:49 left to play, a combination of silly fouls, missed shots and even a technical on Taylor Griffin allowed VCU to go on a 14-5 run, cutting the Sooners lead to 80-70 before Oklahoma pulled away in the last 42 seconds.
"One of the things we want to try to do is become an elite team," Capel said. "And elite teams don't manage the game like we did the final four minutes. I was really embarrassed by that. A senior getting a technical foul with less than a minute left…are you kidding me? It's things like that where we have to grow up. We have to stop believing that the world revolves around us."
The Sooners win Saturday night wasn't any ordinary win. It was maybe their most significant win of the season. The victory kept Oklahoma perfect on the year at 11-0, it marked the 15th win in 16 attempts for OU in the All College Classic and finally, the 11-0 run to begin the year is the best start to a campaign in nearly two decades, when the 1989-90 OU squad opened up the season 12-0.