MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tony Crocker kept firing. Kept launching prayers. Kept believing. Because, after all, sometimes prayers are answered. That’s what this is all about, really, Oklahoma’s stunning 84-71 rout of Syracuse on Friday night in the NCAA South Regional, in which Crocker scored a career-high 28 points.
Belief. Belief in yourself. Belief in the ballplayers you coach. Belief in a team and a dream. Before the Sooners took the FedExForum court, you could have gotten more votes for Betty Crocker to impact this game. Tony Crocker had slumped. Slumped so bad that he seemed more lost than anything else. One-of-15 shooting in his last five games; 5-of-29 in his last eight games. So how did Crocker ride shotgun with Blake Griffin on a streaking Sooner Schooner that now is one win shy of the Final Four? Belief. OU coach Jeff Capel could have benched Crocker. Could have disarmed him, with orders not to shoot. Could have played it safe. But you don’t make Final Fours playing it safe. "I believe in Tony,” Capel said. "If I would have sat him or benched him, that could have destroyed him where you don’t get him back. So we stuck with him, because I believe in him.” Syracuse believes in Crocker, I guarantee you that. Crocker nailed a 3-pointer on OU’s first possession. Then he missed four straight shots. But he didn’t quit shooting. Crocker nailed his next six shots. The first two ignited a 25-5 run over the last two minutes of the first half and the first 3 1/2 minutes of the second half. The last two were 3-pointers that gave OU a 56-29 lead. "It takes our team to another level when he plays like he did today,” said Blake Griffin, who had his usual game, 30 points and 14 rebounds. When Griffin gets help like this, the Sooners are hard to beat. Dare we say impossible? OU dominated a Big East team that stood shoulder to shoulder with those four other Big Beasts (Louisville, UConn, Villanova and Pitt) that have reached regional finals. That’s why Capel stuck with Crocker. Others could have — would have — played better than Crocker when he was sleep-walking down the homestretch of the season. But no one on the Sooner bench could approach playing like Crocker played against Syracuse. "He stuck with me,” Crocker said.