Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
"Again, every possession has to be a lot more important in terms of our execution, commitment and competitiveness and all of that. We just have to keep working at it. We don't quite understand what it takes, but that's why you play and why you work every day at practice and try to get better." - Lon Kruger
The Oklahoma Sooners came into this game knowing that defense was going to be key. As of late, the OU offense has struggled while depending on turnovers for quick, easy scoring opportunities. However, in this defensive battle, it would be the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks coming away with a narrow win. SFA extended their streak to 41 consecutive games of holding an opponent to under 70 points as the Sooners only managed to put 55 points on the board marking the second time they have beaten Oklahoma in Norman since 2007.
However, in another twist of events, Oklahoma proved its worth in rebounding as the Sooners out rebounded the Lumberjacks by a slim margin of +1, a feat no team has accomplished this season.
After trailing early, the Sooners began to chip away and eventually took a 30-26 lead into halftime. It appeared that Lon Kruger's philosophies had sank in and his crew would tally up yet another win. Then, it all came crashing down as Stephen F. Austin set fire to the nets capping off a 19-4 run to lead 45-34.
When adversity has struck, this Sooners squad has shown poise while banding together on the defensive side of things to create points on offense. Tonight was no different as Oklahoma found themselves down by 11-points with just over twelve minutes remaining in the game and the comeback was on. In that span, the Sooners put together an 18-6 run of their to regain a 52-51 lead behind two Je'lon Hornebeak three-pointers with over four minutes remaining.
With Romero Osby in foul trouble throughout the second half, Lon Kruger had to turn elsewhere. It was Steven Pledger who was up to the challenge finding a team high 12 points. It is more important to note that Pledger collected eight of his total in the second half alone and was a major reason why the Sooners stayed in this one.
In the closing seconds, with Oklahoma down 56-54 after a pair of free throws from SFA's Hal Bateman, Buddy Hield would drive the lane and earn a trip to the charity stripe. The chance to tie the game landed on the true freshman's shoulders as he was only able to convert one attempt. While Buddy had an exception game with 9 points and 11 boards, that's all she wrote as the Lumberjacks came up with the final rebound as time expired.
For Stephen F. Austin, Taylor Smith would get his numbers but it was Bateman who became the big man on campus. It is not uncommon for Bateman to come up with double-digit assists, yet he is not particularly known for his scoring. In this game, however, he tallied up 9 assists, 5 rebounds, and 13 points to earn the player of the game honors.
While there is much room for improvement, a constant for the Sooners squad has been bench scoring. In the past years, Oklahoma has looked for a scoring option to come off the bench. This year they have it as the bench contributed 19 points in the loss. In this season, the OU bench has only been outscored twice.
Up next for Oklahoma is a match-up with the Ohio Bobcats who have the potential to surprise a few of these "bigger" schools.