OU holds off Baylor rally in road win
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2013
1/31/13 at 8:16 AM
Related story: OU basketball notebook: Sooners unfazed by Baylor defense.
WACO, Texas - Oklahoma's biggest moment of the season, a 74-71 victory at Baylor on Wednesday night, took just about everything the Sooners had.
It took breakout games for Steven Pledger and Amath M'Baye, and pinpoint offensive execution which saw OU build a 15-point lead midway through the second half.
It took the two most important plays of Buddy Hield's young career, and some clutch free-throw shooting after that big lead nearly vanished.
Most of all, it took white knuckles. The Sooners spent the last hour, it seemed, holding on. They needed Pierre Jackson to miss his would-be game-tying 3-pointer with five seconds left. He did.
Brady Heslip took a last shot at the buzzer with his toe touching the 3-point line. It rattled in and out and hung on the rim before falling off anyhow. No official review necessary.
OU coaches got to the locker room in search of Tums after the close call, joking "Never a doubt" as comic relief.
The players? Heck, they'd take it. Nothing wrong with beating a 14-5, 5-1 team in their gym. Nor with moving into second place in the Big 12 Conference at 14-5, 5-2.
"I think we're growing," said M'Baye, who punctuated his season-high 20 points with seven rebounds and a couple of blocked shots. "We came in expecting to win this game, not hoping to."
They played like it from the time Hield lobbed to Romero Osby for a layup with 7:46 remaining in the first half. The Sooners went on a 13-2 tear to open a 36-22 lead late in the first half. They led 38-26 at the half as Pledger had 14 of his season-high 20 points.
"It's been a while. I needed that," he said. "I felt more loose. I wasn't thinking too much, just going out there and playing."
Pledger cooled at the half, but his teammates didn't. The Sooners came out and eviscerated Baylor's defense, pushing their lead to 56-41 on Andrew Fitzgerald's baseline jumper with 12:27 to play.
Bears coach Scott Drew switched to a four-guard lineup as a last resort. It worked.
The frazzled Sooners scored five points over a nine-minute stretch, allowing Baylor to creep within 61-56 with 3:30 remaining.
They were close to misfiring again when Hield got the ball on the right wing 20 feet from his basket.
"I knew the shot clock was running down, so I told Je'lon (Hornbeak) 'Ball! Ball! Ball!' " Hield said.
Hornbeak complied. Hield jab-stepped to separate from Jackson, then splashed down his only 3 of the game. Pledger's steal and three-point-play followed, and it appeared OU was safe, up 67-56 with 2:44 to play.
Hield turned it over in backcourt. M'Baye missed two free throws. Hornbeak was stripped on his drive.
When Jackson tipped in the missed layup of teammate A.J. Walton, Baylor trailed 67-66 with 1:33 left.
OU called timeout and coach Lon Kruger drew up a play for Hield.
"He told me to go score or throw a lob for 'Ro,' " Hield said.
He drove, spun away from Jackson, and banked one in softly to make it 69-66 with 1:06 to go.
"I got him off the dribble and did what he told me to do," Hield said. "I'm trying to execute plays and be tough in those moments."
Jackson, the game's top scorer with 22 points, made 1-of-2 free throws. Hornbeak answered by making both of his.
The Sooners turned Jackson loose for a layup. Pledger went 1-for-2 from the line. OU led 72-69 with 17 seconds left.
Jackson drove, was fouled and made both free throws. OU inbounded to Pledger. He made both of his with eight seconds left.
Now it was Jackson's turn. He eluded Isaiah Cousins' foul attempt in backcourt and hustled up a guarded 3. No good.
Heslip found the rebound, backpedaled toward his corner and barely missed what would have barely been a 2-pointer as time expired.
It was that close.
"Anytime you can win on the road you feel really good about it," Kruger said. "Any win against a very good Baylor club makes it better."
MEN’S BASKETBALL: OU BEATS BEARS
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Original Print Headline: Sooners hang on
Guerin Emig 918-581-8355
Oklahoma's Steven Pledger (left) attempts to get around Baylor's A.J. Walton during the second half of their game on Wednesday in Waco, Texas. Oklahoma won, 74-71. TONY GUTIERREZ/Associated Press