Pledger, Sooners rout Red Raiders
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Thursday, February 21, 2013
2/21/13 at 7:18 AM
Related Story: OU basketball notebook: M'Baye bounces back
LUBBOCK, Texas - There was grim news for the Oklahoma Sooners coming off the United Spirit Arena floor Wednesday night. The Lubbock fog hadn't lifted. Their plane had been grounded.
It was back home by bus. Three hundred forty-five lovely miles across the West Texas prairie and Oklahoma interstate. They'd watch a movie or two, nap when they could, maybe get a couple hours at home in their beds before class the next morning.
And yet, OU guard Sam Grooms walked into the postgame press conference laughing. Winning has a way of turning the sour sweet. Especially when you do it in late February, with a piece of March Madness within reach.
The Sooners (17-8 overall, 8-5 in the Big 12) moved a little closer to that ultimate goal with an 86-71 victory over Texas Tech (9-15, 2-11). They did what they needed to do, basically. They handled a team you absolutely must handle if you're serious about playing in the NCAA Tournament.
They received big contributions from their three seniors, as you would expect this time of year. Steven Pledger scored a season-high 22 points behind six 3-pointers. Romero Osby chalked up 21 points and nine rebounds. Sam Grooms replaced collapsing freshman Isaiah Cousins and came through with 12 points and five assists.
Toss in a 15-point, 13-rebound effort from Amath M'Baye and 5-of-6 shooting from Cameron Clark and it's easy to see why OU struck for a season-high point total.
"Guys really moved the ball well," coach Lon Kruger said. "Guys made the extra pass and they shot it with confidence and made a lot of good plays for one another. Anytime you put up 17 assists - that's a big number - you like to see that. When you make that extra pass, the shooter has real good rhythm and shoots it better. I think that happened a few times tonight."
For stretches all OU seemed to need were Pledger and Osby. The two stationed themselves on one side of the floor and went to work against a Tech defense that could barely cover one of them.
"It's something that we've worked on, a two-man game with a ball screen," Pledger said. "Him popping out or going to the basket, and me spotting up. It worked to our advantage today."
It subdued the Red Raiders in the second half, after they had closed a 44-36 intermission deficit to 52-48. What worked in the first half was Pledger's 4-for-6 3-point shooting and M'Baye's 13 points.
"He played great. Tonight he looked like the Amath of old," Osby said. "We were excited to see that and happy for him as well. Down the stretch he could be big for us."
There were some bumps.
The Sooners didn't defend nearly as hard as they did last Saturday at Oklahoma State. That helped Texas Tech reach the 70-point mark for the first time since New Year's Eve. Freshman point guard Josh Gray was particularly troublesome with a career-high 26 points.
After Pledger set up Osby to stretch OU's lead to 68-53 with 10 minutes remaining, Gray burned Cousins for six points and two steals in 30 seconds.
That gave Tech some late hope, until Clark answered with a putback and a 15-footer, and Osby sprang open for an open jumper.
As the Red Raiders went cold down the stretch, Grooms went on a seven-point flurry in the final 3:38 to help OU pull away.
It would be a long ride back home, but at least the Sooners could board the bus in good moods.
"I thought a lot of guys made good plays," Kruger said. "We opened the ballgame well, then Tech made a nice run. I thought our guys responded to that pretty well."
4 p.m. Saturday
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Oklahoma's Isaiah Cousins (11) passes around Texas Tech's Jordan Tolbert during their NCAA college basketball game in Lubbock, Texas. ZACH LONG / The Avalanche-Journal / AP Photo