NORMAN — Here they came, OU students storming the Lloyd Noble Center hardwood Saturday.
A little late, a little delayed, not quite SportsCenter worthy. But cut them some slack. It's been a long time since Sooner basketball was this much fun.
OU took down the fifth-ranked Jayhawks 72-66 Saturday, and here was the best part of the celebrating fans. They didn't know who to hug.
This was a Sooner victory either void of heroes or full of them. Nothing in between. The wealth was spread.
Romero Osby was OU's best player — 17 points on eight shots, plus eight rebounds. Cameron Clark scored six straight points midway through the second half to post the game's only nine-point lead.
And then the Sooners made only three baskets the remaining 9:20 of the game, by Amath M'Baye, Steven Pledger and Je'lon Hornbeak. All three were 3-pointers immediately after Kansas had drawn within one or two points.
Talk about big shots.
“Lot of different guys stepped up, made plays,” said OU coach Lon Kruger. “Jumpers here and there to keep our heads above water.”
M'Baye had made just two 3-pointers all season but nailed a trey with 4:45 left to make it 60-56.
Moments later, Pledger swished a 3-pointer to make it 63-59, 22 seconds after KU's Travis Releford missed a foul shot that could have tied it.
But if you have to pick the shiniest star, go with Hornbeak. The freshman started the first 20 games but lost that status a week ago.
Hornbeak didn't even take a shot until the final five minutes Saturday, but when the ball swung his way with 90 seconds left and OU up 63-61, he was ready.
“I told him in the huddle, have your feet ready,” Osby said. “I had missed one (3-pointer), and that's not really my game. I kicked it to him, he shot it with confidence. Made a big shot for us.”
Hornbeak's 3-pointer put the Jayhawks in a deep hole.
“I passed up a couple, just try to get Ro going,” Hornbeak said. “He told me, be ready to shoot. When Coach Kruger put me in the game, he said, be ready. Steve's always been on my back that big players make big shots.”
Hornbeak's two foul shots with 14.9 seconds left finally sealed the win — “the key is Je'lon likes being there,” Kruger said — and OU had not only its first victory over Kansas since 2005, but a win that showed Sooner crunch-timers can come from most anywhere.
The Jayhawks have suddenly slumped, with a three-game losing streak — talk about your bleeding Kansas — but still, it's Kansas. The Jayhawks still entered this game with the Big 12 lead. And the KU horde still helped fill Lloyd Noble.
Kansas coach Bill Self seemed less distressed by his team than in the previous two losses. Even said the Jayhawks played better in Norman than they did in waxing the Sooners two weeks previous at Allen Fieldhouse.
So this is a victory the Sooners should and will cherish.
“Anytime you beat Kansas, you feel very good about it,” Kruger said. “I'm most happy for the players, the fans. The value of spontaneous celebrations, hard to determine. They are important, that's for sure.”
Even if the celebrants don't know who to hug.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.