NORMAN — We came to Lloyd Noble Center on Saturday to lionize the Sooners' return to relevant, if not big-time, college basketball.
Good team, energized crowd, high hopes. Been awhile since OU could claim those traits.
Then a few moments after tipoff, OSU completed its stunner at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, and we upgraded the celebration to include the whole danged state. Some of us remember when campus hoops were a big deal.
The Sooners haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2009, OSU not since 2010. But with OU's rocking victory at Baylor earlier in the week, then the Cowboys taking down the Jayhawks, happy days seemed here again.
Then another drought appeared. Against rawboned Kansas State, the Sooners went almost 11 minutes without scoring. Fourteen straight possessions, spanning the last 6½ minutes of the first half and the first 4½ minutes of the second half.
OU kept playing tough, if not well, and rallied to tie in the final minute before losing 52-50. And the Sooners reminded us that though the drought might be over, the climb back is not.
“We're still a work in progress,” said OU's Romero Osby.
True enough. The Sooners can outfox the likes of talented Baylor, but K-State hasn't lost its toughness just because psychotic coach Frank Martin has moved on.
The Wildcats bullied the Sooners. Fought over screens. Bumped the Sooners from their preferred spots. Got in OU faces and wouldn't get out.
“Tough game from start to finish,” said OU coach Lonnie Kruger, as he was known in a previous life as one of K-State's greatest players.
“Really difficult time on the offensive end. Dictated most of the night with their defense. Had trouble getting separation.”
Here are the sordid numbers. No Sooner had more assists than turnovers, and OU had only eight assists total. OU's starters shot 10-of-34 from the field, including 0-of-9 on 3-pointers.
And the Sooners' three freshman guards — Buddy Hield, Je'lon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins — combined to play 70 minutes, with six assists, seven turnovers and 10 points, on 3-of-11 shooting.
Those rookies are going to be good. Really good. But they will have their rough patches.
After Osby's jumper in the paint with 6:27 left in the first half drew OU within 24-23, the Sooners didn't score again until Osby's driving hook shot with 15:38 left in the game.
During that drought, the freshman guards combined to go 0-for-3 from the field, with two turnovers.
To OU's credit, KSU scored only six points itself during that drought.
“They won a lot of battles,” Kruger said. “We'll learn from today. We've got to cut harder. They're physical. And strong. Their hands are on you.”
Disappointing result. Beat the 'Cats, and OU conceivably could have played Kansas next Saturday for the Big 12 lead.
But we were guilty of getting ahead of ourselves. The Sooners have solidified their NCAA invitation, barring total collapse. That doesn't mean they're a finished product or even will be by season's end.
“We've got a long way to go,” Kruger said. “Nothing wrong with that. Today's a reminder that we've got a significant ways to go.”
The Sooners are a good team. Not the Kelvin Sampson kind of good — “Are we a great team? No. Are we a good team? Yes.” – but good enough to finish decently in a slightly down Big 12. OU is 14-6 overall, tied for third in the league at 5-3.
“Lon's done a great job, in a short period of time, to re-energize, reorganize their program,” said KSU coach Bruce Weber, who's not so shabby himself at keeping the Bob Huggins/Frank Martin revival going. “Their 16 RPI (ranking) is well-deserved.”
OU's not among the 16 best college teams in America. But the Sooners aren't half bad. On what we hoped was going to be Celebration Saturday, that consolation will have to do.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.