Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sooners rally back to win Lon Kruger’s debut, 78-74


Lon Kruger's tenure at Oklahoma got started with a scare.

Calvin Newell scored a career-high 19 points, transfer Romero Osby had 17 points and 10 rebounds in his Oklahoma debut and the Sooners rallied back from a 10-point deficit to beat Idaho State 78-74 Friday night.

"That's what you expect from a first game, and the combination of winning and the opportunity to learn is a good one," said Kruger, who was hired away from UNLV to be the Sooners' coach in April.

"So, we feel good about that."

Barry Honore came up with blocks on consecutive possessions to spark the decisive 9-0 run for Oklahoma.

After floating in a jumper from the right baseline, Honore swatted away Abner Moreira's shot and Carl Blair followed it with a 3-pointer from the right wing that gave the Sooners the lead for good at 56-54 with 9:44 remaining. Honore then blocked Chase Grabau's layup attempt on the next Idaho State possession.

"Barry's a guy that works hard every day in practice, and he's one of those guys you like to root for when he's in the game because he works so hard," said Osby, who transferred from Mississippi State. "It was a real big stretch when he was in there. He played really well."

Honore didn't play at all in the first half and entered with a little over 12 minutes left and the score tied at 48.

After he sent Grabau's layup attempt into the stands, Sam Grooms swiped the ball for a fast-break layup, and Tyler Neal's putback of a missed Newell 3-pointer bumped the Sooners' lead up to 60-54.

"Coming in, I know I have a role to play with senior leadership. I knew we were kind of having a struggle at that point, so just trying to make a spark for the team," said Honore, who played only 5 minutes and made his only shot.

Oklahoma didn't have a double-digit lead until Andrew Fitzgerald hit two foul shots with 88 seconds left to make it 73-63, then had to hang on after a series of missed free throws by Blair and Cameron Clark.

Grooms, a junior-college transfer, had 11 points, eight assists and six rebounds in his Oklahoma debut. Blair scored 12 points.

"Some people call it a moral victory but I'm too old for moral victories," Bengals coach Joe O'Brien said. "I'm greedy. I want to win."

Kenny McGowen led Idaho State with 14 points, just two of them after halftime. Dejan Kostur scored 12 points, Melvin Morgan finished with 11 and Grabau added 10 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.

The Bengals have lost to a BCS conference opponent to start seven of the last eight seasons and are 0-24 against BCS schools under O'Brien since 2006.

"We got in some foul trouble and we had to play some lineups that hadn't been on the floor together in practice," O'Brien said. "We had three kids with three (fouls) and we're making up stuff on the run."

Still, Idaho State forced Oklahoma to overcome a 10-point, first-half deficit to prevent Kruger from becoming only the second coach in school history to lose his first game. Instead, the Sooners won their ninth straight season opener and 17th consecutive home opener.

The Bengals stuck with Oklahoma early and then used a 13-3 run featuring a 3-pointer and a jumper from Sharrod Baldwin to build a 20-12 lead midway through the first quarter. The lead grew to 10 on a free throw by Jakub Kusmieruk, a 7-foot-4 transfer from Central Florida.

By that point, the Sooners had made only three of 18 shots while struggling against a zone defense.

"They got us standing a little bit but it's a great opportunity. You don't always win ballgames that you have to learn a lot," Kruger said.

"We'll learn a lot from this one."

Osby had a two-handed jam that resulted in a three-point play in the middle of a 13-2 response as Idaho State went 4½ minutes without a basket, and Casey Arent's two free throws put Oklahoma back ahead 30-29.

Fitzgerald, Oklahoma's top returning scorer from a season ago, didn't get his first points until hitting a jumper in the lane to put the Sooners back ahead after the Bengals had taken a 34-31 lead into halftime.

He finished with seven points.

The Sooners also played without starting guard Steven Pledger, their second-leading scorer among returning players. Pledger served a one-game suspension for a secondary rules violation committed when he played in an impermissible pro-am game this summer

Pledger will return for Oklahoma's next game on Nov. 18 against Coppin State.


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