Pledger leads Oklahoma over No. 22 Kansas St 63-60

Every once in a while, Lon Kruger has a senior moment.

The Oklahoma coach will be sitting in film study, or perhaps in practice, and draw on his experience playing and coaching at Kansas State to make a point. Only he'll talk about his days in the Big 8, and his players will gently remind him that, no, it's the Big 12 these days.

Yes, Kruger is back in the conference he once called home.

On Saturday night, he walked out of the building he once called home with a victory.

Steven Pledger scored 30 points and the Sooners weathered a second-half charge by the 22nd-ranked Wildcats - and some tense moments down the stretch - for a confidence-building 63-60 win.

"Pales by comparison to what it means to the players," Kruger said of his first game at Bramlage Coliseum since 1990, when he led the Wildcats in his final game before departing for the same job at Florida. "They're not aware where I went to school."

Actually, Lon, they are.

"This is where he rocked out on the court," Pledger said, "so this is great."

The Sooners squandered a 10-point second-half advantage but still led 59-56 on a pair of free throws by Pledger with 1:07 left, setting up a tense final flurry by both teams.

Will Spradling's slicing layup got Kansas State within a point, and Jordan Henriquez corralled a loose ball on defense with just over 10 seconds left. But Sam Grooms managed to poke it loose before it could be cleared, and Romero Osby went to the foul line.

Osby hit two free throws to restore Oklahoma's three-point lead, and the Sooners fouled Henriquez on purpose with 5.2 seconds left. He made both fouls shots to get Kansas State within 61-60, but Grooms matched him with two free throws of his own.

Kansas State had one final chance when Rodney McGruder got loose on the perimeter, but his 3-pointer at the buzzer clanked off the rim, allowing the Sooners (13-7, 3-5 Big 12) to escape.

"I had a clean look," McGruder said. "Just came up short."

McGruder finished with 19 points and Angel Rodriguez had 10 for the Wildcats (15-5, 4-4), who had won three straight but saw a chance to gain ground in the Big 12 slip away.

"They made it a real physical game. We didn't respond," said Kansas State coach Frank Martin, whose team was 3 for 19 from beyond the arc.

Martin probably wished he had Kruger letting it fly from long range.

The native of Silver Lake, Kan., was a star for the Wildcats in the 1970s, twice earning Big 8 player of the year honors. He later returned as an assistant coach and eventually the head coach, taking over after Jack Hartman retired and leading the Wildcats to four NCAA tournaments.

"It meant a lot to me, playing for Coach, knowing that he was a big-time player," Grooms said. "You want to win for him so he has a little bit of bragging rights."

Kruger received a nice round of applause when he walked onto the court before the game, but all those warm and fuzzy feelings were pushed aside after the opening tip.

Rodriguez gave the Wildcats a spark in the opening minutes, scoring eight of their first 13 points and helping them take an 18-12 lead. But the Sooners quickly reeled them in and then pulled ahead when Andrew Fitzgerald scored with 3:21 left to make it 25-24.

Cameron Clark went soaring for an alley-oop dunk on Oklahoma's next possession, and Pledger's 3-pointer just before halftime gave the Sooners a 34-28 lead.

"It was just a matter of getting into the right spots to help my team out," he said.

Spradling had fits trying to guard Pledger, who came in averaging 17.2 points but had 18 in the first 20 minutes alone. He consistently beat the sophomore guard off the dribble and, when McGruder switched onto him, buried an array of outside jumpers.

The lead swelled to 40-30 early in the second half.

"Pledger hit a couple big shots there," Kruger said.

Kansas State finally mounted a comeback. Henriquez started it with a putback, Rodriguez scooped in a layup and McGruder capped it off with a jumper that knotted the game 40-all.

The Wildcats pulled ahead 44-42 when Spradling was fouled by Pledger going to the basket and made both free throws. It was the fourth foul on Pledger and he took a seat on the bench with 10:55 left, but Kansas State couldn't capitalize when he was out of the game.

He checked back in at the 6:48 mark and immediately got to the foul line, making both free throws. Pledger then buried back-to-back 3s with about 5 minutes left, giving the Sooners a 55-51 advantage and hushing a sellout crowd stuffed inside Bramlage Coliseum.

It was silent again a few minutes later, when McGruder's open look from beyond the 3-point line at the buzzer hit the rim and fell harmlessly to the floor.

"It wasn't always pretty, but we did some things to hang in the ballgame," Kruger said. "I told the guys afterwards, the winning is great, but much more important, we showed a little more competitiveness, a little more fight than we have been."


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