With 53 seconds left in the Sooners’ game against Baylor, senior forward Tanner Groves wound up and launched a full-court pass that landed in senior guard Umoja Gibson’s hands before he converted a layup which cut the Bears lead to five points.
Oklahoma (11-3, 1-1 Big 12) wasn’t able to draw any closer than that, ultimately falling 84-74 to No. 1 Baylor (14-0, 2-0 Big 12). Despite shooting 68.2 percent from the field in the first half and 55.8 percent for the game against the No. 10 defense in points allowed per game, OU’s 17 turnovers and a 34-16 loss in the rebounding battle cost the Sooners the game.
“They're a great team,” junior forward Jalen Hill said. “They're the No. 1 team in the country for a reason,” But I think at the end of the day, a lot of the turnovers came on us just making poor passes, poor decision making. So, end of the day, we just need to continue to grow in that department.”
Hill and junior forward Jacob Groves were OU’s only players without a turnover. Freshman guard Bijan Cortes had five turnovers and senior guards Elijah Harkless and Gibson had three each.
The rebounding disparity was a prominent issue for the Sooners throughout Tuesday’s contest. Oklahoma only had four rebounds in the first half and had an 11:53 stretch in the half without a rebound. Tanner Groves’ defensive rebound with 4:04 remaining was the Sooners’ only board in nearly the final; 16 minutes of the first half.
“We came in here and we got crushed in the rebounding,” head coach Porter Moser said. “I mean, that’s the story. If they have position, they're going to grab it. If you block them out, then they're going to tip it back. It's a lethal combination.”
Rebounding issues have plagued OU in each of its three losses this season. Oklahoma’s three worst rebounding performances also mark the Sooners three losses. Alongside the defeat at Baylor, OU was outrebounded 43-30 in a 66-62 overtime loss to Butler on Dec. 7 and 39-32 in a 73-70 loss to Utah State on Nov. 21.
OU finished with 16 total rebounds — 10 less than its previous low on the season, when it recorded 26 rebounds but outrebounded UCF by three in a 65-62 win on Nov. 27 — and only three offensive rebounds to Baylor’s 12 offensive boards. Tanner Groves had six of the 16 and one offensive rebound. No other Sooner had more than three rebounds.
“(We’ve) got to get those tip out ones where you got two hands on it,” Moser said. “That means you have better position. You gotta pull them in. The free throw (rebounds), you have to hold your spot. It's like it's on the line of scrimmage in football and you have to be level, you have to go up and get it.… There’s going to be some teachable moments in that.”
In spite of their turnover and rebounding issues, the Sooners scored the most points of any team against Baylor’s defense this season. Four players scored in double digits, led by Tanner Groves with 13, while every player that received minutes scored. OU took advantage of Baylor’s defensive aggressiveness to cut to the basket for layups and dunks, finishing 19-for-19 in both shot-attempt categories en route to 46 points in the paint.
The Sooners produced more points than No. 10 Michigan State, which only scored 58 and lost by 17 in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship, No. 11 Iowa State, which scored 72 in a five-point loss in Ames. No. 19 Villanova also fell to the Bears 57-36 in Waco, and Oklahoma matched Villanova’s game total in each half against the Bears.
The Sooners will get a chance to improve on the glass and show that their shooting performance wasn’t a fluke at 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 8, when Iowa State travels to Norman.
“I thought we did some good things offensively,” Moser said. “I think that we put ourselves in a position to be in there in the last couple of minutes of the game. They made a phenomenal play on that blocked shot coming out of that timeout, have to give him credit with that. But it’s very tough to swallow. Just a very tough one.”