TULSA — Amath M'Baye struggled beneath the basket until he wrestled the ball free.
Then he pumped his fist.
The junior forward and his Sooners had gotten off to another slow, sloppy start against Oral Roberts, but they heated up in the second half to come away with a 63-62 victory at the Mabee Center on Wednesday night.
M'Baye deserved much of the credit for that comeback, thanks to a four-minute stretch in which he made two baskets and helped bring Oklahoma to its first lead since the game's opening minutes.
“It was a tough game,” M'Baye said. “We just battled back. They've definitely got a great team. I'll take the ‘W' any day of the week. It's something we need and we love.”
Something else Oklahoma needed was better rhythm at the start of the game. Oklahoma lost its two-point lead within the first five minutes of the game. From there, the Sooners suffered a 10-point deficit at the hands of junior Steven Roundtree and senior Warren Niles.
Oklahoma had marked Niles as a man to be covered in the game. The senior guard came into the night averaging 20.8 points a game.
“You wouldn't have known it by the way we guarded him in the first half,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “I like their team. Coach (Scott) Sutton has done a great job with him. We knew how it was going to be.”
Niles was the leading scorer of the first half with 12 points, but Oklahoma also had its share of offensive struggles.
The Sooners came out cold. M'Baye scored just six points in the first half. His teammates combined for five turnovers. Oklahoma was also cold from beyond the arc, going 0-for-4 on 3-pointers in the first half.
And it didn't look like much would change in the second half. The Sooners brought their deficit within four but quickly found themselves 10 points down again after Niles made a layup and a jumper.
But the Sooners have freshman Buddy Hield, and Hield is known for providing a spark. With OU down six with 10:28 remaining, the freshman hit Oklahoma's first 3-pointer of the night. Three minutes later, Hield picked off a pass from ORU center Damen Bell-Holter. Hield drove down the court and finished with a dunk and a loud yell toward a raucous Sooner bench.
“He didn't have a good run in the first half,” Kruger said. “Then in the second, he was a big lift. He knocked down a three, got a steal, found a runner in transition. Then Cam (Clark) came in and gave us a good lift defensively. They helped us keep making progress.”
After M'Baye scored back-to-back baskets, Hield provided a jumper with just under four minutes in the game to even the score. From there, Pledger hit Oklahoma's second and last 3-pointer of the night to put Oklahoma up again. Then Niles hit a 3-pointer.
The clock had 2:20 remaining when Niles tried to drive to the basket but instead drew an offensive charge.
Then, 25 seconds later, Niles tried for another shot, this time a 3-pointer that overshot the rim and fell into the hands of Pledger. The OU senior took it and hit a jumper.
M'Baye stole the ball on the next play. He passed the ball out to Osby, who drew a moving screen foul. From there, Oklahoma defended until Shawn Glover missed a jumper with 18.8 seconds left to seal OU's victory.
“I think this team has a great ability to show up in the clutch,” M'Baye said. “This is the second game in a row. Freshmen stepped up. Steve was struggling and he stepped up and hits that big three. This is something we need and experience we will need down the stretch.”