Oklahoma put forth a herculean effort against No. 7-ranked Kansas on Tuesday night at Lloyd Noble Center.
Still, the end result was a third consecutive conference loss for the Sooners.
Kansas’ Christian Braun drained a 3 over Elijah Harkless from the left wing to put Kansas up 65-62 with 10.9 seconds left, and after a KU foul, Oklahoma’s Jordan Goldwire converted two free throws on the other end.
KU inbounded the ball with 6.1 seconds left, then needed a timeout with 4.9 to go. Braun made two free throws with 4.0 seconds left to make it a three-point game, and Harkless’ three-quarter court heave was off.
“I think we’re gonna win a lot of games,” coach Porter Moser said. “The way we played, our guys played so hard. … We did a lot of good things. You can’t forget that feeling, man. This feeling sucks.”
“They’re good team,” Goldwire said, “so we knew the game was gonna come down to the wire.”
The Sooners were coming off a two-game conference losing streak at Texas and at TCU.
“We can’t let these last three games sit around and feel bad about it," said Jalen Hill. "We gotta feel it in our gut.”
OU fell to 12-6 overall and 2-4 in Big 12 Conference play, while Kansas improved to 15-2 and 3-1.
“I think we know we’re capable of beating a lot of teams,” Goldwire said, “it’s just a matter of doing it.”
Kansas led by 12 early in the second half but the Sooners seemingly took control with a 20-2 run.
But Bill Self’s Jayhawks were not done and chipped away at the Sooners’ six-point lead to set up the dramatic finish.
Moser said the Sooners had good possessions and high-quality shots down the stretch. But they just didn’t go in.
“Gotta make some shots,” Moser said. “But we’re doing a lot of good things. Playing really hard.”
The Sooners were without big man Ethan Chargois, and Moser said guard C.J. Noland went into concussion protocol at halftime.
“You’re down 12 (early in the first half) against the No. 7 team in the country,” Moser said, “and we fought back. … I loved our effort. I loved our belief. I really did. The guys never stopped believing they ere bona win until the final buzzer. And that’s a great sign of the culture.”
Duriing the final four minutes, Kansas retained possession of the ball on a controversial call under the basket, and Ochai Agbaji – bouncing back from an apparent injury and dreadfully slow start – drained a 3 to tie it at 58-58.
After an Oklahoma miss, KU’s Jalen Wilson made two free throws to put Kansas ahead 60-58, but Goldwire made two freebies for Oklahoma to tie it at 60.
Agbaji put KU up again with a driving layup that made it 62-60, but Goldwire scored a layup off a bounce pass from Umoja Gibson to tie it again with 28.5 seconds left.
The Sooners’ troubles with turnovers continued early against the defensive-minded Jayhawks as OU gave it away eight times in the first half and helped stake KU to a 34-32 halftime lead. Five of those were Kansas steals, mostly on perimeter or entry passes that ended with steals by Dajuan Harris or Remy Martin.
Kansas seized a 22-15 lead on a 3-pointer by Wilson and seemed on the verge of blowing it open as Moser called timeout.
Gibson missed a 3 out of the timeout, but Tanner Groves put back the miss to make it 22-17.
That gave the Sooners a spark. After a Kansas bucket extended the lead back to 7, OU went on a 11-0 run on buckets by Harkless, Groves, Hill and Goldwire and capped by a 3-pointer by Noland that put Oklahoma up 28-24.
KU, however, finished with baskets on four of its last six possessions to lead by 2 at the half, then opened the second half with three straight scores after two more OU turnovers — including back-to-back treys from Christian Braun and Jalen Wilson — for a quick 42-32 lead.
A layup by David McCormack extended the KU lead to 44-32 before the Sooners finally got things going in the second half.
Hill’s layup stopped the bleeding, and after Tanner Groves found his brother Jacob inside for a layup, Gibson hit a fast-break 3 to cut it to 44-39 with 15:16 left.
Goldwire kept the Sooners’ good vibes going with a powerful drive to the basket to make it 44-41.
Gibson put in a layup off a nifty wraparound pass from Bijan Cortes to cut KU’s lead to 46-44, and then dropped in a step-back 3 after shaking his defender with a wicked crossover dribble to put Oklahoma in front 47-46 with 12:37 left.
Tanner Groves’ layup made it 49-46, and free throws by Jalen Hill gave the Sooners their biggest lead at 52-46 and pushed OU’s run to 20-2.
Oklahoma got another boost over the final five minutes when Hill slammed a quick pass from Tanner Groves, then delivered hustle plays on both ends of the floor: a defensive rotation to create a turnover and a transition dive onto the floor to save a possession that led to an easy putback by Akol Mawein that put the Sooners in front 56-52 with 3:50 to play.
Agbaji, the Big 12’s leading scorer at 20.6 points per game, left the game in the first half with an apparent hand or wrist injury, but was able to return in the second half. Agbaji missed his first seven shot attempts and was scoreless over the first 35 minutes.
The Sooners’ next game is Saturday when they host No. 5-ranked Baylor. Tipoff is 2 p.m. OU lost its first matchup with the Bears 84-74 in Waco on Jan. 4.
“Just gotta get over the hump,” Moser said. “That’s the message. We’re not gonna lose these guys. I wanna play Baylor right away.”
Said Goldwire, “Coach said he loved the way we played tonight, regardless of the result. He said he saw a lot of good things. We just gotta keep building and get ready for Baylor.”
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