FORT WORTH, Texas — Before Sam Grooms bent over in disgust for missing a game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer and before Oklahoma went cold from beyond the arc and before TCU celebrated its second win of the conference season — a 70-67 upset — Sooners coach Lon Kruger furrowed his brow and scolded his senior.
Just before the game’s tip, while TCU players were being introduced, Kruger caught Grooms goofing off and dancing for his teammates. Then, not just Grooms, but OU’s entire starting lineup played a first half of disjointed basketball that dug them in a 22-point halftime hole. Now, OU fans are left wondering what a loss in the final game of the regular season to a No. 239 RPI team will do for the Sooners’ post-season resume.
“We’ve had great momentum up to today,” Kruger said. “We have to learn from the things we didn’t do today. It’s a tough lesson, but hopefully it’ll get our attention.”
Besides winning games in the conference tournament like its opening-round matchup against Iowa State, there’s not much more Oklahoma can do to build its Big Dance resume.
The Sooners came into Fort Worth confident with strong practices, a warm-up and shootaround with energy that Kruger said he approved.
Nobody knew exactly what to say about what happened. How do a coach and players explain making only four points outside the paint or free throw line when they made numerous jumpers in warm-ups and games before Saturday? How do the players explain going 0-for-16 from beyond the arc when they made 46 of their last 100 coming into the game?
“I don’t know,” senior Romero Osby said. “They hit us in the mouth first, and we didn’t respond as quick as we should have. We shouldn’t have to respond to that. We should be ready to fight from the beginning.”
Oklahoma shot 10-for-30 from the field, 0-for-8 in 3-pointers and 2-for-6 in free throws in the first half. But the Sooners knew exactly when they started showing up: the beginning of the second half.
“We started to get stops,” senior Andrew Fitzgerald said. “We came together more on the defensive end and started clicking more on the offensive end.”
They started to be aggressive. They started to realize they were getting pushed and they weren’t pushing back. So they started to push — and the pushing started from Osby and Fitzgerald.
They started cut into the Frogs’ lead, first to 15 points, then to 10. Freshman guard Je’lon Hornbeak became more aggressive, and guard Buddy Hield pumped up his energy even more. Osby drove to the basket more and Fitzgerald did the same.
Osby ended the game with a game-high 19 points, and Fitzgerald ended with a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds. TCU’s Garlon Green had a game-high 18 points.
The Sooners cut their 22 point-deficit to two with 2:10 remaining at 62-60. Despite their best efforts, they found themselves fouling in an attempt to make TCU keep the lead from the line. In the last 30 seconds of the game, the Sooners made three baskets to one TCU dunk and two Horned Frog free throw shots. That left OU down 70-67. TCU was forcing Oklahoma to make what it had missed all night, a 3-pointer with 6.8 seconds left.
As time ticked, Grooms passed the ball to Hornbeak near the left side of the arc, then cut through the center and made his way out to the far left side of the arc. Hornbeak passed the ball back to Grooms, and the senior took a nearly open 3-pointer that he had made in many games before. This time the ball clanked off the rim and fell away.
“He’s been making that shot for the last two or three weeks,” Osby said of Grooms. “He missed it. We’re not mad at him for missing that shot. ... We wouldn’t be in the position that we’re in had he not been making those shots.”