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Sluggish Sooners Grind Past TCU

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After a grueling start to conference play, including three road games, No. 25 Oklahoma was thankful to be back at Lloyd Noble Center Wednesday night, facing Big 12 cellar-dweller TCU.

However, the Sooners almost relaxed a bit too much against the Horned Frogs.

Buddy Hield had 13 points and Ryan Spangler had another double-double of 13 points and 16 rebounds as the Sooners escaped a scrappy TCU squad, 77-69 Wednesday night.

As is the case with most young athletes, it would appear the Horned Frogs' 0-5 mark in Big 12 play was a tough thing to overcome mentally for the Sooners. Fortunately, they were able to do just enough to end the night with a win.

"That's fair in sports," OU coach Lon Kruger said. "There's a human nature you have to fight off and I thought our guys worked at it. The energy level wasn't bad, but we just didn't have the rhythm and turned the ball over a few more times than we normally do. We have to play better."

TCU tied the score at 66 with 3:46 remaining in the game, but the Sooners would rally down the stretch to close the game on an 11-2 run to close out the victory.

Sophomore guard Je'lon Hornbeak had scored just six points since his return from a foot injury earlier this month against Texas, but Wednesday night, the sophomore hit double figures for the first time since November, finishing with 10 points, including four during the game-deciding run. It was a lift the Sooners desperately needed, even if it came from an unexpected source.

"I knew my time would come," Hornbeak said. "I just stayed in the gym and put up shots. When the first one went down, you get a little bit of confidence with that. It was good to see one jump shot go in and you just keep attacking."

Hornbeak also played terrific defense in the last four minutes on TCU point guard Kyan Anderson, who finished with 23 points, but managed to squeeze off just a single shot down the stretch as the Sooners closed out the win.

"Je'lon had a good feel defensively late," Kruger said. "He always has good instincts. He was great. He's been a little bit more aggressive in practice and is returning to his old self."

Spangler had another terrific outing for the Sooners, dominating the boards and giving the Sooners multiple opportunities to score on the offensive end. Spangler finished with five offensive rebounds and his 16 total rebounds were a new career-high.

The offense didn't come easy for the big man in the first half. Spangler was scoreless, but had 11 boards at the break. After halftime, Spangler was able to find some creases inside for easy buckets, and his 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with 33 seconds left sealed the game for the Sooners.

"I guess we're getting better at playing in tight games, but we wouldn't want it like that," Spangler said. "At the end of the first half, we've been giving up leads and that's something we've been working on. If we learn to play at the end of the halves, we'll be fine."

As has been the case in some games this season, the Sooners couldn't put TCU away when it was reeling in the first 20 minutes. The Sooners led, 38-27, with just over three minutes remaining, but turnovers and missed shots allowed the Frogs to close the first half on a 9-2 run and trail just 40-36 at the break.

The Sooners had an up-and-down first half, shooting the ball well out of the gate, but failing to do a whole lot to stop the Horned Frogs on the defensive end. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Clark gave the Sooners a 25-17 lead, but TCU came right back with a 6-0 run of their own to cut the deficit to 25-23 with 7:30 remaining in the half.

OU gave TCU several extra possessions in the first 20 minutes thanks to eight turnovers and 10 TCU offensive rebounds. Fortunately for the Sooners, the Frogs managed to shoot just 37.8 percent in the first half.

The Sooners are back on the road again on Saturday, when they head to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech. Oklahoma will have to guard itself mentally once again, as a home Bedlam matchup on Monday is looming just around the corner.

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