NORMAN, Okla. — Jamal Bieniemy erupted with euphoria, clapping his hands and showing a big smile.
The sophomore guard just saw his uncontested three-point attempt fall through Lloyd Noble Center’s south-end hoop, putting Oklahoma ahead of No. 13 West Virginia by 17 points with 8:30 remaining in the second half.
The shot set off an afternoon celebration for a team that has struggled to secure a résumé-building win this season.
OU can rest easier with its stunning 69-59 win over West Virginia on Saturday.
“I couldn't be more proud of them,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “They battled like crazy.”
The Sooners (15-8, 5-5 Big 12) have landed punches against the Big 12’s heavyweights, but the proverbial knockout blow has been elusive.
The Sooners trailed by a point to No. 3 Kansas at halftime before losing 66-52 on Jan. 14. They lost 61-57 at No. 1 Baylor less than a week later. OU then trailed defending Big 12 champion Texas Tech by three points with 1:32 to go in regulation this past Tuesday but the Red Raiders survived OU's road scare to win 69-61.
Bieniemy's deflating shot and the Sooner frontcourt's impressive outing helped OU finally put its marquee-game woes behind it, earning its first win over an Associated Press Top 25 team this season.
“They've been making progress and big steps,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “... And yet to beat a club like this, it was the next step. They figured it out today and made a lot of good plays for each other.”
OU senior Kristian Doolittle spearheaded the upset with a team-leading 27 points and 12 rebounds.
Doolittle’s performance halted his recent shooting slump, which has kept him out of double figures since his 11 points Jan. 18 against TCU.
Finding his confidence played a major role in his resurgent performance, he said.
“Just to have a next-shot mentality,” Doolittle said. “I feel like that was in my head the past few games. But you know the confidence that the coaching staff and my teammates instill in me, I was able to come out here with a fresh mind.”
He couldn’t have picked a better game to break out of his slump.
West Virginia’s post players figured to be a major battle for the Sooners, according to Doolittle.
The Sooners ultimately let the Mountaineers grab 21 offensive rebounds, including five from West Virginia’s 6-foot-9 forward Oscar Tshiebwe.
Doolittle said he and junior Brady Manek handled the challenge well. Although, the Mountaineers’ physicality in the low post wore on the Sooners.
“It's just pretty tough,” said Manek, who had 11 points and eight boards. “When you're battling guys, pushing guys that are bigger on you, it tires you out.
"It makes the offensive end even more tiring. I just think me and [Doolittle] did a good job just trying to stay with them the whole time and force them to take bad shots. I think we did that.”
West Virginia's downfall was an inefficient 31.6 percent mark from the floor on 76 shots.
Tshiebwe, West Virginia's leading scorer, was held to 5-of-16 shooting for 12 points. West Virginia's 6-foot-10 forward and second-leading scorer, Derek Culver, was limited to four points on 2-of-10 shooting.
OU also outrebounded West Virginia 42-41, despite giving up as many offensive boards as it did.
And the Mountaineers simply didn’t have an answer for Doolittle or Manek.
“Those guys are great shooters and great scorers,” Bieniemy said. “Whenever we can get them going, it's good for our team. That led the way throughout the rest of the way and carried us.”
Buettner writes for The Norman Transcript, a CNHI LLC publication.