NORMAN — Romero Osby intentionally missed a free throw with 2.5 seconds left that helped Oklahoma get off a potential game-tying basket against the No. 4 team in the country.
But if Osby and the Sooners hadn’t missed a ton of free throws the entire game OU might have upset Missouri on Monday night at Lloyd Noble Center.
The Tigers escaped with a 71-68 win when Steven Pledger’s 3-pointer clanged off the rim, a shot set up by Andrew Fitzgerald tipping Osby’s missed free throw beyond the arc.
“It was perfect,” Pledger said. “The play was designed to miss the free throw and get the tip-out. And we actually got the tip-out. It was on line. It felt good when it left my hand. It just didn’t go in... But if we make free throws that shot never happens.”
OU entered the game second in the conference in free throw shooting (74.6 percent) but shot a season low 39.1 percent.
The Sooners started the game 0-of-8 at the line. They missed 14 total.
Pledger was shooting close to 90 percent at the line. He had missed only seven free throws all season. Monday night he missed three.
“It’s hard to explain because we’ve shot free throws very well,” said OU coach Lon Kruger. “Pledge is one of the tops in the country. You play the game long enough, things like that happen. It seemed (like) it kind of happened with everyone.”
Led by 22 points from Pledger and a double-double from point guard Sam Grooms (17 points, 10 assists), the Sooners owned the lead much of the first half before Missouri went on a 10-0 run — 4-0 to end the first half and 6-0 to open the second half.
The Tigers (22-2) stretched their lead to 10 points. Missouri would never trail again, but Pledger caught fire to help the Sooners draw within 55-52 with 12 minutes left.
After Missouri rebuilt its lead to eight, Carl Blair and Pledger drained back-to-back 3-pointers to help OU close within 66-64 with 3:33 remaining.
The Sooners, though, could never draw even or take the lead.
“It wasn’t our best basketball, but on the road in the Big 12, it’s not always going to be pretty,” said Missouri coach Frank Haith. “And it’s never easy. Our guys found a way to grit one out on the road. We executed when we needed to and got stops when we needed to.”
After the Tigers’ emotional win over Kansas on Saturday night, Haith put his players in a hotel to shield them from the celebration in Columbia, Mo.
Addressing the mental challenge of having defeated the Sooners by 38 points in the first meeting a month ago, he reminded his players OU defeated Kansas State in Manhattan, where the Tigers lost by 16 points.
“This was a good road win for us,” Haith said. “We never let them take the lead. That’s a sign of a good team.”
It was a what-could-have-been game for the Sooners (13-10 overall, 3-8 in league play).
“I know it’s frustrating for the players, coaches, fans, everyone to not get the results that we want,” Kruger said. “We’ve just got to continue working.
“I told our guys afterward, ‘Good battle, good work but we have to keep doing things from a habit standpoint to have more good possessions, enough to get over the hump against good basketball teams.’”
Kruger is confident his players will continue to work hard, but it’s frustrating to constantly put in the work and be near the bottom of the Big 12 standings.
“In basketball, you (always) have tomorrow, but by the same token you want to win right now,” Grooms said. “We just have certain plays and mishaps that don’t allow us to do that right now. Like coach always says, ‘When we’re ready to do it, we’ll do it.’ At the end of the day it’s up to us.”