The Sooners shot better in the second half against Arkansas than they had all year. They hit 64 percent of their shot attempts in the final 20 minutes, and senior forward Romero Osby came off the bench for a season-high 22 points.
Osby showed himself to be Oklahoma’s only consistent scorer last night, and quite possibly its best option inside and outside of the arc. When the game seemed to run away from the Sooners at Bud Walton Arena, Osby willed the Sooners back.
Oklahoma men’s basketball coach Lon Kruger said there are several players who he believes could become the Sooners’ go-to scorer, but one man hasn’t exhibited himself to be the guy in his eyes this season.
“I think we’ve got some candidates for that,” Kruger said after practice Wednesday. “I don’t know that we have anyone playing at that top level of confidence right now who will actually step up and do that consistently, but I think the exciting thing about where we’re at is potentially all of our guys can play better. So that’s kind of exciting. Now getting them to do that is another story.”
Osby hit 9 of 12 attempts from the floor in 26 minutes against Arkansas. He accounted for more than half of Oklahoma’s bench points, and the Sooners’ bench outscored the Razorbacks’ bench 41-22 Tuesday night. Oklahoma’s starting five accounted for just 37 of Oklahoma’s 78 points.
“We got off to a good start, attacking,” Kruger said. “You want to attack their pressure. They do a good job trying to speed you up so you want to attack it under control. Seemed like a few turnovers were the result of just not quite being strong enough with the ball or being aware enough, which are all things we have to do a better job of.”
Timely 3-pointers from freshman guard Buddy Hield and two late treys from senior 2-guard Steven Pledger gave OU an opportunity to win, but Arkansas’ Marshawn Powell added to a night that will surely go on his highlight reel with two clutch free-throws in the waning seconds of the game for a career-high 33 points.
“I knew he was a good player,” Osby said. “I told the guys he was good player and had a lot of moves and everything, but like coach said when he's knocking down 3s he's a tough guard. You know he's multi-skilled.”
The Sooners were able to keep sophomore guard BJ Young in check, allowing him to score just 10 points on 4 of 12 shooting, but Young adapted to OU’s double teams and pressure defense by kicking the ball out to his teammates for a career-high eight assists.
“He’s so quick off the dribble, gets to the paint, gets to the rim,” Kruger said. “I thought our guys had pretty good awareness of the guy on the ball. Certainly had to work hard, had to get some help from defenders on either side and I thought our awareness of Young was pretty good.”
The Sooners shot 64 percent from the floor in the second half. Junior forward Amath M'Baye came on strong with 10 points in the second 20 minutes, and ended with 14 points in the game. But the nine 3-pointers the Sooners allowed were more than the six they converted, and that tilted the game in the Razorbacks’ favor.
“The offensive side of it wasn't our problem in the second half,” Kruger said. “We gave up 50-plus percent shooting as well.”
HORNBEAK SITS OUT WEDNESDAY
Freshman guard Je'lon Hornbeak did not participate in practice Wednesday. He took a hard foul against Arkansas and sustained a minor left knee injury.
“When he got hit last night on that foul, he strained something on the outside of his leg,” Kruger said. “He’s sore, but don’t expect it to be anything major at all. Expect him back in a couple of days.”
Hornbeak scored five points and turned the ball over four times in 20 minutes against the Razorbacks.
FITZGERALD DISAPPOINTS IN FIRST START
Senior forward Andrew Fitzgerald received the start over Osby in Fayetteville, presumably because he’s played so well against the Razorbacks in his career. He averaged 17.5 points and 10.5 boards against Arkansas prior to Tuesday night’s game and scored 17 points against the Razorbacks last season.
However, Fitzgerald contributed just four points and one rebound in 14 minutes to mark his first start this season. He’s averaging 6.9 points per game and shooting 40.7 percent from the floor this season.
“Andrew’s a good shooter, just hasn’t shot the ball well yet,” Kruger said. “We know he will. I think that’s all it will take to boost his confidence level.
PLEDGER BECOMING SOONERS’ CLOSER
If Osby is emerging as Oklahoma’s best player this season, Pledger is emerging as its closer.
OU has shared the basketball well and picked each other up with unlikely scoring performances and big buckets in pressure situations.
“Usually, the way it’s been going, it’s been every other game, me and Je’lon,” said Pledger after Oklahoma’s 69-65 win last Friday.
Pledger scored back-to-back 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds of the Sooners’ game against Arkansas. He and Hornbeak have emerged as OU’s closers this season after scoring late game-winning buckets to lead Oklahoma past Oral Roberts and Northwestern State (La.).
Against Texas-Arlington he hit a 3-pointer that gave the Sooners an edge late in the game that allowed Hornbeak to seal the win with free-throws. Playing in the Mabee Center for the first time against Oral Roberts, Pledger drained a baseline floater that gave Oklahoma the one-point lead it needed to win an intense game the Sooners looked more than likely to lose.
Yet, Pledger’s scoring is down as are his minutes this year.
In 2011-12, Pledger averaged 16.2 points per game and 32.9 minutes per game. This season his minutes are down to 25.3 per game, and he’s scoring just 10.1 points per game.
“Pledge has made some huge shots late in the ball game, but still, percentage-wise, not shooting for the percentage that I think he’s capable of shooting it at,” Kruger said.
GROOMS NOT CONCERNED ABOUT STARTING
Senior point guard Sam Grooms insisted his role with the team hasn’t changed much from this season to last, but he hasn’t started a game for the Sooners. He said he isn’t frowning because he has come off the bench in all eight of OU’s games.
“I’m still doing the same thing, still gone be the setup guy I was and try to get to the basket and finish plays whenever I can,” Grooms said. “Minutes wise, it’s a different role right now. But as coach said, it’s a long season and things might change. Just gotta do what you’ve got to do to make the team better.”
Grooms registered 25 minutes against Arkansas with 15 of those minutes coming during the second half. Kruger chose to go with Grooms late because he provided stability against Arkansas’ full-court press.
“He gave us good direction offensively, getting us in the flow, good attack mode,” Kruger said. “I thought Sam did a good job in the second half.”
Freshman guard Isaiah Cousins has received the starting nod all season at point guard but played just 14 minutes against Arkansas and contributed just two points and an assist.
The Sooners have endured prolonged stretches during their first month of games where they couldn’t find the basket. Grooms said their scoring must improve by league play next month.
“It’s frustrating for me because I look at what we can do as a team and where we’re not at right now,” he said. “I’m pretty sure the rest of the team is frustrated too with where we’re at. We know we can be better. We just have to apply it on the court and do what we have to do.”
AROUND THE BIG 12
No. 23 Oklahoma State suffered its first loss of the season against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg last weekend, and Texas Tech suffered its first loss against No. 8 Arizona in Lubbock.
Previously unranked Baylor earned its first ever win against Kentucky in Lexington. The Bears’ win against Kentucky forced AP voters to drop the Wildcats from the top 25 rankings. Baylor then followed its historic win with a loss to Northwestern at home.
Iowa State’s Tyrus McGee is shooting 47.8 percent from 3-point range to lead the league. Pledger’s 40 percent from beyond the arc ranks second in the league.