Pledger’s 31-points fuels OU's 79-74 win over Houston
OKLAHOMA CITY — Houston’s task became clear during the first 10 minutes of its game against the Sooners when junior Steven Pledger proved he hadn’t forgot to pack his stroke in his game-day luggage Saturday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena in the All-College Classic.
The Cougars failed to neither stop nor contain the dynamic 2-guard as he scored a season-high 31 points during Oklahoma’s 79-74 win over the Cougars.
Though Pledger scored a career-high 38 points last season versus Iowa State, his 31 points against the Cougars were the most he has ever scored in regulation. He is among the national leaders in shooting percentage at 60.4 and has swished the net from 3-point range at 51.2 percent.
Even Jesus Shuttlesworth has to acknowledge, on this night, Steven Pledger had game.
Four Sooners scored double digits though the team shot just 42.2 percent from the field. There shooting was largely helped by the Pledger.
He was 10-of-13 — including 4-of-5 from 3-point range — and a perfect 7-of-7 from the charity stripe. Did he feel his shooting hand alight as he set fire to the nylon?
“Well, a little bit,” Pledger said. “I just wanted to win to be honest, and today it meant me scoring.”
18 of the 2-guard’s 31 points came in the second half, and those were the 20 minutes the Sooners would need his superlative stroke the most.
“Overall it was a great night for (Pledger),” junior point guard Sam Grooms said. “I think he was very much into it. He found open spots in the flow of our offense and that allowed him to get to his sweet spot. He made shots tonight.”
Oklahoma (8-1) went into the locker room up, 40-37, over Houston, but the Cougars took measures to insure survival in the second half. With 15:41 left to play in the game, Houston’s Tashawn Thomas scored a layup that put the Cougars ahead by nine points.
Houston (4-5) guard Jonathan Simmons gave Oklahoma fits with a team-high 20 points, but the Sooners gathered themselves during the next timeout and began chipping away at the Cougars’ lead.
“They got a little lead there in the second half, and really, at that point, I really felt good about the response of the guys defensively,” coach Lon Kruger said.
Junior forward Andrew Fitzgerald shot terribly from the floor — 4-of-16 for 10 points. But in the waning minutes of the game, he said his job became simple: Find Pledger and give him the ball.
“Some nights you’re not going to have it, and tonight was Steve’s night,” Fitzgerald said. “At the end of the day, my whole game plan was to try to get Steve open as much as I can because he was the hot man.”
Oklahoma tied the game at 65 and took the lead after Pledger hit a trey from a Grooms assist that gave the Sooners a 68-67 lead with 5:02 left to play. The Sooners wouldn’t let go of the lead for the remainder of the game.
The Sooners next game is against the South Carolina State at Lloyd Noble Center, and it is thinkable that they could enter Big 12 play with just one loss.
Grooms said he thought the Sooners’ ability to fight back from being nine points down will only serve to bolster their confidence as conference play nears.
“I think it’s really good for us,” he said. “It showed the mental side. Adversity tells a lot about teams, and we were down nine at one point and time, and I think it was a timeout called. Coach just asked us ‘How are you going to respond?’ I think that was the best thing for us.”
Oklahoma had disposed of its last three opponents by double digits, but a game that tested their mettle was probably the best thing for the Sooners if you ask Grooms.
“It’s not good to win by 20 every night,” Grooms said. “I think that when you have games that are close it shows a lot about teams. It shows a lot about chemistry and how well you play together, how much you trust each other and the confidence we have in what we’re doing.”