NORMAN — Amath M'Baye placed his hands on freshman Buddy Hield's neck as he spoke to him, trying to shield Hield from the view of opposing players jumping around on their home court.
Oklahoma senior Romero Osby stood just to the left of his teammates with his arms bent and his hands on his head as they watched the Stephen F. Austin players celebrate.
With 3.9 seconds left Tuesday night, Hield, the freshman from the Bahamas, stood at the free-throw line to take a pair of shots that could have tied the game. He made the first, and hit the rim with the second. The Lumberjacks came down with the rebound and the victory over the Sooners, 56-55, at Lloyd Noble Center.
“We can't be pleased with the result,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “We recognize a lot of areas we have to do a much better job with on the floor.”
Trailing 47-38 midway through the second half, the Sooners began to work their way back with a couple of baskets by Osby. With 7:38 remaining, freshman Je'lon Hornbeak hit his second 3-pointer of the night to get the crowd back on its feet with the Sooners trailing 51-45.
The next two possessions, Pledger and senior Andrew Fitzgerald worked together, communicating and setting picks that finished with two Pledger scores.
Then Hornbeak hit his third 3-pointer at the top of the key. Oklahoma had gone on a 7-0 run and regained the lead, 52-51, but the Sooners didn't keep it for long as SFA's Thomas Walkup completed a three-point play to regain the lead.
On the next Oklahoma possession, Hield tried to regain control of the ball before it skipped out of bounds, and Stephen F. Austin answered with a basket.
With less than 10 seconds remaining, Hield drove to the basket. He put up a layup, got fouled and watched as the ball sat on the rim before deciding not to roll into the hoop.
“I thought it was an and-one,” Hield said after the game. “The basketball didn't bounce my way.
“I threw the second one a little too hard. Frustrating moment right now for me.”
As Hield spoke with eyes fresh from tears, Pledger stood staring at the tablecloth while Osby closed his eyes and shook his head.
“I tried to tell Buddy, ‘Don't worry about missing free throws because we shouldn't have put him in that situation,'” Osby said. “We can't blame anybody. Stephen F. Austin is walking out of here with their heads high. ... That keeps hitting home right now. Just frustrated.”
Pledger and Hornbeak scored 12 points apiece to lead the Sooners. Taylor Smith had 14 for SFA.
“I just wanted to get midrange shots,” Pledger said. He finished the game 6 of 14 on field goals. “That gets everybody going. I wanted to hit shots so we would start coming back. When they see me going, I know the team's going to follow suit.”
For the second straight game, Kruger opted to go to his bench early, first replacing starter Isaiah Cousins with Hield only a minute and a half in.
Then, due to Osby racking up early fouls, Kruger was left to switch up his rotation. By the end of the first half, eight Oklahoma players had scored, and Kruger had played multiple rotations of players, fitting them here and there to try to make Oklahoma's basketball puzzle start to fall into place.
“It's frustrating because you want to be out there helping the team,” Osby said about watching much of the first half from the bench. “I know Fitzgerald and Amath have experience, guys like that. I knew they'd be able to take care of the job.”
Yet for the second straight game, M'Baye didn't produce. He took two shots and made one basket, a layup for Oklahoma's first points of the game.