OU’s meltdown Wednesday night in Austin — losing in overtime after taking a 22-point lead with 7:54 left in regulation — might not have been the most monumental collapse in Sooner basketball history. Certainly ranks high. But a better OU team than this one, playing for bigger stakes, at home no less, once blew a lead seemingly as insurmountable. And Lonnie Kruger was in the house.
Twenty-six years to the day earlier — Feb. 27, 1987 — 12th-ranked OU lost to Kruger’s Kansas State Wildcats 90-89. The Sooners led by nine with 1:16 left in the game.
Going into the 1987 regular-season finale, the Sooners had lost only one home game in four years. And OU still had a chance at a Big Eight championship, but the loss relegated OU to the third seed in the upcoming Big 12 Tournament.
“It’s a very, very disappointing loss,” OU coach Billy Tubbs said. “It was an unusual game.”
Mitch Richmond’s 18-foot swish with two seconds left gave the Wildcats the lead. He took a feed from point guard Steve Henson — also in the building in Austin, as Kruger’s chief lieutenant — and beat OU defensive specialist Dave Sieger to the wing. Tim McCalister, one of five OU seniors playing their final home game, missed a desperation 35-footer just before the buzzer.
In the final minute, OU’s Chuck Watson, McCalister and Harvey Grant all missed foul shots. KSU cut the deficit on a 3-point shot by Henson and a 3-point play by Norris Coleman. With 38 seconds left, OU still led 89-86, and McCalister was at the line. He scored 35 points that night to move into the No. 3 spot all-time in Big Eight scoring. But McCalister missed the front end of the one-and-one foul shot, and Richmond’s follow shot drew the Wildcats within one point with 15 seconds left.
Then KSU fouled Grant, and he, too, missed the foul shot. KSU called timeout with 11 seconds left to set up the winning shot.
Tubbs blamed the officiating — notably a charging call that fouled out point guard Ricky Grace with 6:44 left in the game — but OU players put the blame elsewhere. “Being at home, we thought we had it,” Grant said. “We just didn’t do the things we had to do and we allowed them to come back.”
So, which is worse? Blowing a 22-point lead with 7:54 left, or a nine-point lead with 76 seconds left? Here’s a way to look at it. Which would you rather have? A 22-point lead with 7:54 left, or a nine-point lead with 1:16 left? Good arguments can be made for both. But I’d take a nine-point lead with 1:16 left.