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Oklahoma Bench Gives Sooners Bedlam Win

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STILLWATER, Oklahoma -

Oklahoma really needed a win on Saturday.

Coming into Saturday's Bedlam game Part II, the Sooners had lost three of four, most notably Wednesday's clunker of a loss against Texas Tech in Norman. An NCAA tournament berth wasn't in jeopardy, but it's never a bad idea to set yourself up for the most possible success, both in the Big 12 tournament and the NCAA tournament.

OU took a step in the right direction, shaking off the Tech loss on Wednesday to come from behind in the second half to take down the shorthanded Cowboys, 77-74.

Looking at the final numbers, it's almost a mystery as to how the Sooners won the game. The Cowboys shot better from the field and outrebounded the Sooners, while dominating the paint to the tune of a 30-18 points advantage.

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However, with OSU so shorthanded, the Sooners instead dominated where they could: the bench. OSU's starting five outscored the Sooners, 73-43, thanks in large part to the Oklahoma trio of Cameron Clark, Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins combining for nine points on 3-of-23 shooting. The Sooners made up for that by crushing the Cowboys in bench production, 34-1. 15 of those came from Frank Booker, a career-high. Tyler Neal had 13, including 11 in the first half.

The difference between the Sooners and Cowboys at this point is proven depth. Even with Marcus Smart—and arguably Michael Cobbins—in the lineup, the OU bench is simply better and deeper, with more on the way. The Sooners lose just two players for next season while bringing in three frontcourt players and elevating some players from the end of the bench into the rotation.

Lon Kruger's ability to develop players is leaps and bounds greater than Travis Ford's. For example, just look at how far Isaiah Cousins has come this season—minus this game, of course. Cousins found himself benched fairly often a year ago, but is averaging more than 10 points per game in his sophomore campaign. Je'lon Hornbeak, who made four crucial free throws in the final minute and scored six points total, was a starter last season but now comes off the bench and gives the Sooners key boosts when needed.

Buddy Hield, yet another sophomore, essentially won the game for the Sooners with two 3-pointers 45 seconds apart to give OU a 71-68 lead with a minute remaining. But without those contributions from Booker and Neal, the Sooners don't win this game. Neal scored his 11 in the first half despite going 5-of-10 from the free throw line. Honest question, has Tyler Neal ever had 10 free throw attempts in a half at OU?

Booker is only a freshman, but didn't play like it on Saturday. He scored 10 points in the second half, and provided the Sooners with several hustle plays to shake the Sooners out of their second-half lull that allowed the Cowboys to open up an eight-point lead with 11:38 remaining.

First, Booker had a steal and was fouled on the layup attempt. He hit 1-of-2 free throws and then hit a 3-pointer the next time down the floor. Later, a 3-pointer gave the Sooners a 60-57 lead with 6:06 remaining. A 10-2 OSU run later found the Sooners down five, but Booker hit another 3-pointer with three minutes left to bring them within two before Hield brought the Sooners home.

If you lined up the OU and OSU rosters, OSU would definitely win at the top. However, the difference between the two would steadily get less and less before the Sooners starting winning individual positions later down the roster. That's the difference between the two programs right now and it doesn't look like it's going to change anytime soon.

The Cowboys may have the talent, but the Sooners have the deeper—and better—team. Saturday, the Oklahoma bench proved that by carrying the Sooners to a Bedlam sweep.

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