NORMAN – Oklahoma missed Blake Griffin Monday night. Missed Tony Crocker and Austin Johnson, too.
Griffin was injured, out and recovering from a concussion. Johnson and Crocker were mostly missing, spending the final 10:40 on the bench, as a late Sooners rally fell short in an 87-78 Big 12 men’s basketball loss to Kansas at Lloyd Noble Center.
Needing all hands on deck with Griffin out, freshman Willie Warren gave the Sooners a replacement go-to guy with 23 points. But help was hard to come by, with Crocker and Johnson struggling to the point that OU coach Jeff Capel put them on the bench and left them there, even with the Sooners staging a late rally.
After falling behind by as much as 20 with 10 minutes to play, OU made a run, getting within three points in the final minutes. The surge was sparked by Warren and Taylor Griffin but also reserve guards Omar Leary and Cade Davis, who combined for 18 points and six 3-pointers.
"I finally got it right in getting some guys out of there and getting some guys in who wanted to play and compete at a higher level,” Capel said.
"I was proud of that five who played at the end.”
The Sooners, without Blake Griffin again, lost for the second straight game, falling to 25-3 overall and 11-2 in the Big 12.
Kansas used the hole in OU’s middle – where the national player of the year leader was missing – and the win to take sole possession of first place in the conference, improving to 23-5 and 12-1.
"Let’s call it like it is,” said KU coach Bill Self, "we caught an unbelievable break tonight.