Oklahoma continued their second-half struggle streak in this matchup against Memphis. Although OU looked strong for most of the game and lead for almost the entire regulation, the young-nature of this team seems to crumble in close games in the second half. Some really positive performances emerged from the Sooners' lineup, but it was not enough to fend off this aggressive Tigers team. Here is what you need to know.
As the Sooners took the court, Sooner fans had to double-check what they were seeing. Christian James was sitting on the bench to begin the contest, while Jordan Shepherd took the court for his first career start at point guard. This change in the lineup allowed the Sooners to race out to a 6-1 lead, and shot 63 percent from the floor.
Dante Buford came into the game ready to let the ball fly. Buford knocked down his first two 3-pointers of the game, and gave OU an early 19-8 lead. Two early fouls for Khadeem Lattin allowed Jamuni McNeace to see more minutes, and he provided a solid interior offensive game to balance the hot outside shooting. McNeace had a monster first half in the absence of Lattin, scoring eight points and grabbing eight boards in 13 minutes of play. Although he started 2-2 from the floor, Lattin's contribution was limited to foul-trouble, allowing him to only play four minutes in the half.
Lon Kruger entered this matchup ready to utilize his bench to his advantage. About halfway through the first half, ten Sooners had already checked into the game. By halftime, OU managed to play 12 players versus Memphis only using eight. Kruger's bench players proved to benefit the Sooners immensely, holding a 24 to 2 points advantage over the Memphis bench in the first half.
Oklahoma's offensive woes were soon in the rearview mirror, with a streak of 13 straight field goals made in the first half. With 5:14 to go in the half and OU holding a 10-point lead over the Tigers, Oklahoma was shooting 71 percent from the floor and 67 percent from behind the 3-point line. The Tigers were staying close to the Sooners with their 58 percent shooting from the floor as well. However, OU could not extend their lead and ended the half only up by nine points. Despite starting 17-21, OU went 2-13 to end the half, but still shot 56 percent from the floor.
James responded well to being benched for the first time this season, providing eight points and four rebounds in the first half. Jordan Woodard lead the team at the half with 11 points, while a different Jordan (Shepherd) lead the team in minutes in the first half, playing 17 of 20 minutes. Despite Memphis outscoring the Sooners in the paint by four points, Oklahoma managed to grab five more rebounds than the Tigers.
Early into the second half, Lattin was once again subbed out as McNeace trotted onto the court. However, this time it was not due to foul trouble. Lattin looked out of sorts with barely playing in the first half, as McNeace played one of his best games as a Sooner. McNeace managed to play like a true post, versus Lattin's stretch-4 style of play.
A little over halfway through the second half, the game began to heat up as the game mirrored that of one of a tennis match: Back and forth. With 12:51 to play, Dedric Lawson stole the ball from James, leading to a dish to his brother K.J. Lawson who flushed the ball through the rim. Rashard Odomes answered that with a dunk of his own on the other end of the court, but was soon followed with a Jimario Rivers' dunk. James stretched the lead to eight points with a 3-pointer of his own with 12:10 to go in the half.
At 11:21 to go in the second half, Buford knocked down yet another 3-pointer, giving OU a solid 9-point lead. Oklahoma seemed to be pulling away, but right on cue, Oklahoma begin to give the game away halfway through the second half. In an almost 4-minute stretch, OU missed four straight field goals and turned the ball over three times, allowing Memphis to go on a 9-0 run. The Sooners struggles were answered with a clutch 3-pointer by the freshman point guard Shepherd with 7:31 to play to give Oklahoma a 5-point lead.
With less than four minutes to play, OU held just a 3-point lead. McNeace floated a hook shot over the middle with 3:13 to go, giving OU a 77-72 lead. However, Memphis did not go away. A Markel Crawford layup with 1:16 to go in the game cut the deficit to one point. An inopportune steal off of a McNeace pass lead to a foul by James on the layup. Jeremiah Martin sunk both of his free throws, giving a 1-point edge to the Tigers.
Shepherd, with a huge performance on his first career start, kept OU in the game with a floater and two monster free throws to keep Oklahoma within one point. However, the Sooners fell back on their reliable senior leader to send them to overtime. Woodard pump-faked off of a Shepherd pass, and banked in the game-tying three with 0.6 left in the game.
Despite some scoring surges in extra time, Memphis sealed this game from the free throw line. Memphis finished the game shooting 88 percent from the penalty-strike, going 28-32 for the whole game. Memphis proved to be too much in the paint, scoring 52 points in the paint. Memphis managed to shoot better from the field, knocking down 57 percent of their shots while OU only made 48 percent. Although this is a tough loss, some great positives can be taken away from this one.
Shepherd and McNeace proved to be great additions to this Sooner squad. McNeace contributed with 13 points and nine rebounds, while Shepherd scored 18 points. These were the biggest positive surprises for Oklahoma. Woodard lead the team in scoring with 22 points and got four rebounds as well. James had a solid performance, despite fouling out, scoring 15 points and accumulating seven rebounds. Oklahoma's bench also scored 40 points versus Memphis only scoring eight points off the bench.
The Sooners' next matchup will be against Auburn on December 21st. The tip-off is at 7:30 PM CT, and OU will try to avoid a 3-game losing streak.