Playing host to one of the nation’s best, the Oklahoma Sooners needed a nearly flawless performance to shake their recent losing skid.
Instead, OU was undone by a mountain of miscues, falling 65-51 to the No. 5-ranked Baylor Bears on Saturday inside the Lloyd Noble Center.
The loss was Oklahoma’s fourth straight, dropping the Sooners to 12-7 overall and 2-5 in Big 12 play, and it moved the Bears to 17-2 and 5-2.
The problems started from the very beginning, as Porter Moser’s team turned the ball over eight times on their first 10 possessions, and the Sooners had to play catch-up the rest of the afternoon.
“It is stunning because I think these guys were ready to play,”Moser said after the game in a Zoom press conference. :We had some good practices and they came out - and I know Baylor is one of the elite pressure teams in the country.”
In all, Oklahoma turned the ball over 25 times, topping the team’s previous season high of 20.
“It's been the same storyline a lot for us,” Moser said. “You are not going to beat Baylor with 25 turnovers. You aren't going to beat a lot of teams with 25 turnovers.
“We are searching for consistency. That's guys who play well ... you need a lot of guys playing well together. And we're searching for consistency. I know we're short-handed. Still, your key guys, we have to step up.”
While the Sooners struggled to even get shots up to start the game, the Bears rode a hot start, building a 10-0 lead before OU finally put points on the board.
Facing an early deficit, Moser turned to his bench after all OU starters but Elijah Harkless got off to a cold shooting start, and two unlikely candidates emerged to pull the Sooners back into the game.
Big man Akol Mawein was called into action due to the absence of Ethan Chargois, and he paid immediate dividends. Mawein used his 6-foot-8 frame to help fight the rebound battle, and he became an instant target on the offensive end, rolling to the bucket for a pair of easy scores.
Rarely used guard Marvin Johnson also played his biggest role of the season in the first half against the Bears. After appearing in just eight games entering Saturday’s contest, Johnson’s explosive athleticism helped OU get out and run on the Bears, adding another four points of his own to help Oklahoma claw all the way back and take a 21-17 lead with 4:33 left in the first half.
Mawein said the belief of the team never wavered, even in the face of their early deficit.
“The mood of the team at that point of time was to just stay together,” Mawein said after the game in a Zoom press conference. “We're always talking about our culture and how when we're always together we're an unstoppable force. We really didn't let that affect us.”
But that’s where OU’s run would fizzle.
Baylor withstood the Oklahoma punch, steadying and finishing the first half on an 8-0 run to take a four-point lead into halftime. After the buzzer, the Bears didn’t relent, starting the second half on another 8-0 sprint, forcing OU to once again go back on the hunt to try and chase down the Bears.
The hosts did have one last run in them on Saturday, however.
After being held without a field goal attempt in the first half, Tanner Groves finally found his groove, scoring five quick points to help OU stage a 12-1 run and pull the Sooners within one possession.
Then, an unfortunate sequence of events unraveled any chance of a massive OU comeback.
Down five points, the Sooners were running their offense to find a good look when Groves and Baylor forward Matthew Mayer came together at the top of the key battling for a loose ball. As Groves fell to the ground, Mayer jumped into the Oklahoma big man, kneeing him in the face.
No whistle was blown, and with Groves still on the ground, the Sooners fouled the Bears in transition. After the play, Groves was hit for a technical foul as he pled his case to the official, resulting in four free throws for Baylor between the live-ball foul and Groves’ technical.
The Bears made all four, extending the lead back out to nine and essentially killing off the game despite the protests from the crowd at Lloyd Noble.
“Unacceptable,” Moser said of Groves drawing the technical foul. “I talked to the team. I talked to Tanner about it. Let me get it. Officials have a little bit longer rope with a coach than a player. He knows it.
“He just apologized to the team and us. You can't do that. You can't scream at the official no matter what it is. Those were key moments when you are coming back.”
Ultimately, it was the turnovers that did the Sooners in.
OU shot 45 percent from the field, including contributions of 13 points from Umoja Gibson, 12 points from Harkless and 11 points from Groves. When they were actually able to get shots up, the Sooners were more efficient than the Bears, who only knocked down 42 percent of their attempts from the field. But Baylor was able to cash in OU’s mistakes for 35 points off Sooner turnovers.
Oklahoma will now hit the road for a pair of games as the Sooners try to avoid a five-game losing streak. Up next, OU will visit the West Virginia Mountaineers on Wednesday evening.
Tip-off between the Sooners and the Mountaineers is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
“There's definitely fight in this group, but there's also a big part of getting better and consistent,” Moser said. “… There's going to be no quit in this team, we'll fight. We're searching. We'll find it. We'll get better.”
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