First, a confession.
Entering Saturday afternoon Bedlam, I couldn’t wait to write about how this season’s Sooner men are so much better than last season’s Sooner men.
They’ve lost only twice. Behind Kansas, they’re No. 2 in the NCAA’s very own RPI. They’re light years ahead of where anybody thought they’d be after last season’s doubly disappointing second-half collapse.
Doubly disappointing because not only did they collapse, but the years-long Trae Young sweepstakes saga amounted to nothing more than a first-round NCAA tourney bounce.
So, if the Sooners could just beat a middling Oklahoma State team, that would have to be the story, right?
Yet, OU wasn’t doing me any favors.
Not until the Sooners began to pour in 13 points over the first half’s final 3:19 were they even shooting 20 percent.
Along the way, there was a possession they got four tries before Christian finally dropped the ball in the bucket and, because they were shooting 17 percent when the possession began, their shooting percentage actually increased.
While OU was shooting 17 percent, OSU was stuck around 20. In a Lawrence, Kansas, graveyard, Dr. James Naismith had to be turning over.
Then, wouldn’t you know it, OU finished by doing something it simply could not do last season.
The final score was 74-64 and that was about right.
It was about right because the Cowboys played hard, too, despite their own shooting issues. And it was about right because if you’re going to blow a team out, you should probably be really good for more than 10 or 15 minutes.
Nevertheless, it is also right that OU left Lloyd Noble Center better than it arrived.
It left having made it entirely clear it doesn’t have only one source it can go to down the stretch, but many.
The Sooners are so different from last season and it would appear, yes, quite a bit better, too.
Though less dazzling, they are easier to root for, their fortunes not wrapped around a single player.
“It’s a totally different team,” said Sooner guard Christian James, who finished with 14 points.
“We know what we can do on the defensive end,” he said. “We think we’re one of the best defensive teams in the country.”
Defense, what a concept.
Still, let’s get back to the Sooners closing.
After Thomas Dziagwa hit a 3-pointer to get OSU within 54-53, OU had the ball a dozen more possessions.
The Sooners got points on nine of them and one of the three they didn’t, Jamuni McNeace missed the front end of a one-and-one.
In three of the nine they got points, they got three points.
Jamal Bieniemy began the run with a huge 3-pointer, answering Dziagwa with his first points of the game. James followed McNeace’s charity miss with a 3 from the left corner and Miles Reynolds converted an old fashioned three-point play.
Two of OU’s 2-pointers were Brady Manek dunks off nifty passes from Bieniemy. Additionally, Kristian Doolittle hit a straight-on 17-footer, James hit a layup, Aaron Calixte made two free throws and Doolittle made one of two free throws.
Count up the names.
Five Sooners scored and six would have had McNeace hit the front end. Four baskets were assisted, three by Bieniemy.
OU finished on a 20-11 run.
A year ago, the Sooners lost 12 of 16 to finish the season and six of those were by eight points or less.
OU was either non-competitive — four were by more than 20 points — or competitive, yet could not close.
The Sooners have played two conference games this season. They were very competitive against No. 5 Kansas inside Allen Fieldhouse and Saturday, against their Bedlam rival, they closed.
OSU coach Mike Boynton offered a telling quote.
Asked if it was stunning to play a team operating so differently from one season to the next, he said the strangeness only existed last season.
“Last year was more the anomaly,” he said, eventually adding of the current Sooners, “This is a Lon Kruger team.”
Kruger offered an interesting thought of his own.
Defense is a part of his team’s identity. By comparison, offense is lagging and yet still OU has won 12 of 14.
Given all that, said Kruger, “I think we have maybe a better chance with this group to keep getting better.”
It’s a 15-word sentence that speaks volumes.
So, yeah, OU wasn’t fantastic Saturday. But it won, it revealed itself in meaningful ways, and there’s a lot of upside yet to tap.
It’s a Lon Kruger team, too.
All good things.