STILLWATER — OU freshman Frank Booker knew little about Bedlam basketball when he was honing his hoop skills down in Augusta, Ga.
“Not much,” Booker admitted. “But I caught one of the games on TV. It was here (Gallagher-Iba Arena). The crowd was wild. It was huge on ESPN. So I figured it was a pretty big game, the rivalry was.”
Truth is, Booker doesn't know a lot about Bedlam now, even though he's one of the series' newest heroes.
Booker nailed three 3-pointers in the final 10 minutes as OU rallied for a 77-74 victory Saturday that reignites the Sooners and sends OSU's season precariously close to the cliff of all-out disaster.
But despite the dramatics — Buddy Hield nailed back-to-back 3-pointers in the final two minutes to lift OU from a 68-65 deficit to a 71-68 lead, and Markel Brown missed a tying 3-pointer at the buzzer — this was not vintage Bedlam.
Despite the trappings — Travis Ford wore an orange blazer, OSU's 2004 Final Four warriors were feted at halftime, ESPN dispatched Holly Rowe and Fran Fraschilla — this was not the holy war you'd expect out of teams that a mere two weeks ago were both ranked in the top 25.
The Cowboys were short-handed, with Marcus Smart's suspension, and Gallagher-Iba Arena was not rocking.
The crowd was listed as 10,070, and it seemed quieter than that. State now has lost six straight games, Travis Ford's job grows more insecure with every defeat and even momentum swings OSU's way seemed to be accompanied by a sense of dread.
“We can't feel sorry for ourselves,” said OSU guard Phil Forte. “No one's going to feel sorry for ourself.”
Least of all the Sooners. OU needed a win itself, after that clunker of a game against Texas Tech. A loss would have shifted some doubt onto the Sooners' efforts to secure a March Madness spot.
“Big game,” Sooner coach Lon Kruger said. “Big win. Huge, as Bedlam always is.”
He's right. Huge. The Sooners needed this game. Ford and his shell-shocked Cowboys really needed this game.
It was just different. A strange feeling permeated the arena. Not as loud as normal. Not as packed. Empty seats will jettison a coach as quickly as will defeats.
Ford had little to say afterward. Foul shooting doomed his squad (OSU made just 12 of 22), which otherwise played more solid than it had in several games, including some with Smart.
“He gets them going,” OU's Ryan Spangler admitted. “But other guys for them today stepped up. Everybody for them was hitting shots. They were just as hard to guard. He's a great player, but they were good today.”
Good. But not good enough. The Cowboys now are 16-9 overall, 4-8 in the Big 12, and from fans to Ford to the Five Guys roster, everyone is realizing that the NCAA Tournament, much less any kind of deep run, is fast escaping OSU's grasp.
But Booker said, “I think the fans still were their sixth man. They were loud. They were crazy. But we hung in there as a team and played basketball.”
That last part is true. The Cowboys got up 18-11 early, but Tyler Neal scored eight points in 2 1/2 minutes to give the Sooners the lead. The Cowboys led 54-46 midway through the second half, but Booker's three 3-pointers helped reduce the margin. The final trey, with 3:04 to go, brought OSU within 67-65 and set the stage for Hield's barrage.
“I had full confidence every time I shoot the ball,” said Booker, whose 15 points were a career high. “On that certain one, someone kicked it to me, and was ready to shoot. I let it go and it went in.
“It was a beautiful win, beautiful team-gathered win.”
All Bedlam wins are beautiful. Especially on the road.
But if Booker sticks around four years, he will experience more electric Bedlam than he did Saturday, when Gallagher-Iba hosted a rarity: the play trumped the atmosphere.
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.