By JOHN SHINN
STILLWATER — There was no dominant team on the floor Saturday afternoon at Gallagher-Iba Arena. But Oklahoma rediscovered the identity that kept it in the upper tier of the Big 12 Conference all season.
That identity is a team that is scrappy enough to stay in games when it’s not playing well and poised enough to win them in the final minutes.
The Sooners were just that in the 77-74 victory over the Cowboys.
“Guys have won games like that all year, just hanging in there and making some good plays late and big shots late,” OU coach Lon Kruger said after the Sooners completed their first Bedlam regular-season sweep since 2009. “We know every game in the Big 12 is really tough for us. They’re all going to do down to the wire. That’s the way they’ve all been. Today was no different.”
The big shots belonged to Buddy Hield. The sophomore, who was coming off a woeful 1-for-13 shooting effort in the stunning loss to Texas Tech last Wednesday, scored 22 points.
The last six of those points came inside the 2-minute mark and from nearly an identical spot on the floor.
The first was a 3-pointer from the right wing that allowed OU to tie the game with 1 minutes, 48 seconds remaining. The second, with 66 seconds to go, gave OU the lead for good.
“Coach (Kruger) called two good plays for me and I was able to execute and knock down shots and try to get a win for my teammates,” Hield said.
The Sooners (19-7, 8-5 Big 12) needed the victory to pull out of a funk during which it had dropped three of its previous four games.
The Cowboys (16-9, 4-8) were shorthanded with All-American guard Marcus Smart serving the second game of a Big 12-mandated three-game suspension. Yet they were the team that played with a sense of desperation throughout.
Markel Brown scored a game high 26 points and Phil Forte scored 16. With less than 12 minutes to go, OSU had an eight-point lead and was poised to pull out of the tailspin that has caused them to lose six of their previous seven games.
But they couldn’t get the Sooners to go away. They won despite starters Jordan Woodard, Isaiah Cousins and Cameron Clark going a combined 3 for 23 from the field.
The reason it worked out for OU: freshman guard Frank Booker came off the bench to score 15 points and senior Tyler Neal scored 13 points and carried OU during a six-minute stretch in the first half.
Neal was playing his eighth Bedlam contest. The wily vet scored 15 points when the teams met Jan. 27 in Norman.
Booker, however, looked extremely comfortable in his first trip to Gallagher-Iba Arena.
“I came in here ready to shoot and do my role. Other than that, I played defense and just knocked down shots,” he said.
The Sooners won despite shooting just 40.3 percent (25 for 62) and getting outrebounded 41 to 39 by the Cowboys, who shot 46.7 percent (28 for 60) from the field.
There were two important differences:
• OU’s 12-for-29 effort from beyond the 3-point line. The Cowboys were 6 for 15.
• The Sooners went 15 for 21 from the free-throw line, including Je’lon Hornbeak and Woodard combining to go 6 for 6 in the last 31 seconds. The Cowboys were 12 for 22 from the charity stripe and just 7 for 13 in the second half.
“We usually make our free throws. It’s something we usually take a lot of pride in,” said Forte, who started the day shooting 92.5 percent from the free-throw line, but was 1 for 4 Saturday. “I think it help cost us the game.”
There was no one particular area that decided the game. But over the long haul of the season, the Sooners have had a knack for hanging around and winning close games in the final minutes.
“Everybody played their role and we started playing together as a group. When we play together as a group, good things happen for us,” Hield said. “We were able to do it in the last minute stretch.”
They found themselves in their comfort zone again and Saturday and played like it.