If conference play is a grind, then conference play in the Big 12 must be like World War I trench warfare.
Oklahoma is hitting the late-February wall right now, as the Sooners avoided a disastrous loss in Lubbock on Saturday to slip by Texas Tech in overtime, 79-75.
Saturday's win came four days after the Sooners had to come from behind late in Tuesday's home win over Texas. There is no such thing as an off-night in the Big 12, and playing 18 conference games only makes it more difficult for teams to play their best night in and night out.
The Sooners were not at their best on Saturday—far from it, actually. Oklahoma allowed Texas Tech to shoot 59 percent from the field after the Red Raiders came into the game shooting just 39.4 percent this season. The Red Raiders also hit 6-of-14 from 3-point range, well above their season average of 30 percent. If not for 22 Texas Tech turnovers, the Sooners would have been leaving Lubbock with a loss.
It was the 3-pointer that caused the Sooners to really sweat on Saturday. With Oklahoma up 65-61 with 35 seconds left, Zach Smith hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to one. After Jordan Woodard hit a pair of free throws, the Sooners smartly fouled Toddrick Gotcher before he could attempt a game-tying 3-pointer. Unfortunately, Gotcher missed both foul shots—the second one on purpose—and a Tech offensive rebound found its way to Gotcher, who buried a tying 3 with 3.6 seconds left.
In overtime, Buddy Hield, who was just 1-of-10 from the field in regulation with five turnovers, hit two 3-pointers to give OU a 75-70 lead with 2:39 remaining. Hield was hampered by foul trouble in the first half, and a third foul less than 30 seconds after halftime put him back on the bench. Hield was never able to get into any sort of rhythm, but his two 3-pointers proved important for Oklahoma.
Gotcher came back with another 3-pointer that tied the score at 75 with just over a minute remaining. From there, the Sooners were able to close it out with free throws and a pair of excellent defensive possessions.
Oklahoma also had to deal with an injury to Woodard, who suffered a hip pointer early in the second half and was limited the rest of the game. He came out for a couple brief moments, but was able to help the Sooners in key moments in the second half.
With Hield off and Woodard ailing, it was Isaiah Cousins and Frank Booker who stepped up for the Sooners. Cousins scored 22 points to lead the Sooners, while Booker came off the bench to score a career-high 17 points, hitting 4-of-8 from behind the arc. Booker had 12 in the first half when the Sooners were struggling mightily on the offensive end.
TaShawn Thomas picked up the aggressiveness inside in the second half to finish with 15 points.
Texas Tech bullied the Sooners inside all day, as the Red Raiders outscored OU in the paint. Freshmen big men Isaiah Manderson (13 points) and Norense Odiase (16 points) both had big days inside for Tech, taking the battle to the Sooners.
Gotcher led Tech with 18 points and Keenan Evans had 17 points.
Even though leaving Lubbock with a win proved more difficult than expected, the Sooners have still won seven of their last eight games after falling to 3-4 in conference play back in January. At this point in the season, when conference play is busy separating the pretenders from the contenders, wins matter, not style points.
Winning while playing less than your best is important this time of year as conference tournaments and the NCAA tournament draw near. The Sooners will have a week off before taking on TCU next Saturday, a week in which they can build on the positives of two less-than-impressive wins this week.