NORMAN – Eddie Sutton and Billy Tubbs sat in floor seats Wednesday night at Lloyd Noble Center. Even shared a pre-game chat.
Then the beleaguered Bedlam basketball teams staged a tribute game to those landmark coaches who changed basketball in this great state.
Sutton defense ruled the first half. BillyBall offense reigned in the second half. And the Sooners produced the better brand of both.
OU bounced OSU 77-64 in a bragging-rights game that won't change the course of either dismal season but ended up reasonably high on the entertainment scale.
The Sooners blew out the Cowboys early and late. But in the middle, these teams almost lived up to the series name. Kooky, I suppose, but not atypical for teams that really haven't figured out who they are.
OU's defense embarrassed the Cowboys in the first half. There really is no other way to say it.
The Sooners led 30-12 at halftime; OSU made just four of 24 shots in the first half.
The toughness that Lon Kruger says his team has been lacking most definitely was not lacking Wednesday night.
“We had the defensive intensity every possession,” said OU's C.J. Washington. “Kept them out of transition. And we were ready. That's a big key for us. So many possessions, we're not ready.”
The Sooners smothered OSU sharpshooter Keiton Page with Cameron Clark's initial hounding and perimeter switches. Fresh off a 40-point game against Texas, Page made just one of eight shots in the first half.
You wondered if the Cowboys would get to 30. Wondered if that bus trip back to Stillwater would be the longest 89 miles in the history of motor transport.
“I don't think we could have gotten any more passive than we were” in the first half, said OSU coach Travis Ford. “They were physically tough on us. They took away our first and second options, and stood around after that.”
Then the Cowboys scored 27 points the first seven minutes of the second half. That's a pace not seen on this court since the Tubbs days.
State turned aggressive. Attacked the rim and swished the deep ball. Page got hot – he finished with 29 points on 9-of-21 shooting. Markel Brown played much more determined; the Cowboys are learning that for any kind of success, they have to have Brown heavily involved.
This was a little like those blowout OSU losses at Kansas and Missouri, where the Cowboys were jackhammered in the first half, only to come out and play a representative second half. Except these Sooners aren't KU or Mizzou.
The Cowboys made this second half much more than representative. A game that seemed over suddenly wasn't. After Page's 3-pointer brought the Cowboys within 42-39, OSU got two straight defensive stops and chances to tie.
Page's 3-point shot looked good but rimmed out. Brian Williams' 3-point liner bounced off.
And burst went the bubble. OU's Romero Osby bulled in for a basket to stop the run.
“You fight that hard … then they scored, our shoulders slumped,” Ford said. “That took a lot out of us.”
Soon enough, the Sooners were back in control.
OSU's cold shooting returned. Missed six of seven shots; only Page stayed hot.
Only Page and the Sooners. Given the reprieve from blowing an 18-point halftime lead, OU played efficient offense the rest of the way.
Osby's basket started a run. OU scored on nine straight possessions and 18 of its remaining 21 possessions. OU made 14 of its last 19 shots.
Kruger said OSU's defense down the stretch had to gamble. The Cowboys trapped and extended out, looking for steals. “I thought our guys handled those situations really well,” Kruger said. “Got easy baskets late.”
Not much has come easy for these Sooners. They had lost six straight, settling into ninth place in the Big 12. Worse yet, they had lost focus.
The Sooners found some of that focus in the first half. Maybe it was desperation time.
In the Lloyd Noble tunnel after the game, OU's Sam Grooms approached Ford, who had tried to recruit the point guard to OSU.
They greeted each other, and Grooms said, “Oh, coach, we needed this one really bad.”
The Sooners played like it, on a night with a result that had to please Tubbs and a style that had to make even Sutton proud.
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 AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.