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SPORTS: University of Oklahoma

Sooners Overwhelm Baylor Behind Strong First Half Performance

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

At the end of the game, the only thing the Oklahoma Sooners were losing was a bit of Je'lon Hornbeak's front two teeth.

The freshman guard hit the floor midway through the first half, chipping both of his front two teeth on the Lloyd Noble Center hardwood. By the time the clock hit zeros, though, Hornbeak and his OU teammates were all smiles.

Oklahoma used a strong defensive performance in the first half to build a 47-21 halftime lead, and rode that margin the rest of the way to defeat Baylor 90-76.

With the win, the Sooners moved closer to securing their first NCAA tournament berth since 2009. Meanwhile, Baylor continued its movement in the opposite direction. The Bears have now lost three straight and six of its past eight, putting on the outside looking in at the Big Dance.

Despite playing a game that had more whistles than a train station—officials called 57 fouls, including 36 in a marathon of a second half—the Sooners used the frequent stoppages of play to their advantage, hitting 39-of-45 free throws to offset Baylor taking 21 more shots than the Sooners.

Sam Grooms set a career-high with 23 points, going 15-of-17 from the free throw line. It was just a week ago Grooms set a career-high with 18 points against Oklahoma State. After scoring 54 points total in the first 22 games of the season, Grooms has scored 53 points in his last three games.

Steven Pledger scored 19 points for the Sooners, including 17 points in a first half where he went 6-for-7 from the field. Romero Osby scored 17 points for OU.

Pierre Jackson led Baylor with 28 points, but needed 23 shots to do it. As a team, Baylor shot just 37.1 percent from the field, including a dismal 25.8 percent in the first half. Isaiah Austin chipped in with 15 points for the Bears.

OU never trailed in the game, jumping out to a 19-8 lead in the first six minutes of the game, thanks to four early 3-pointers. Baylor played uninspired basketball throughout the first 20 minutes, missing easy baskets and playing poor defense. Baylor coach Scott Drew apologized to Baylor fans after the game, calling it "the worst coaching of the year."

Baylor stayed within striking distance, cutting the lead to 29-20 on a layup by Cory Jefferson with 5:42 remaining in the half. After that, the bottom fell out.

The Sooners closed the half on an 18-1 run, scoring on every remaining possession in the half to go into the locker room with a 26-point lead.

After the break, Baylor began playing a bit more like a team with their talent should. The Bears opened the half with a 15-4 run as their shot finally began to fall, and the Sooners' offense, so crisp and efficient in the first half, stalled to almost a complete standstill.

With Baylor threatening, the Sooners were forced to play the last 13 minutes of the game rather than daydream about their plans for the evening. Oklahoma responded to the challenge, pushing the lead back to 21 on a 3-pointer from Grooms before Baylor made a final rally.

The Bears would cut the lead to 12 on two occasions in the last four minutes, but with OU hitting their free throws, that's as close as Baylor would get, as the Sooners swept the season series with the Bears for the first time since the 2009 season.

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