NORMAN — Coach Lon Kruger’s Sooners could have beaten Iowa State so many different ways Monday night inside Lloyd Noble Center.
They could have maintained any piece of the 10-point lead they established with 9:58 remaining in the first half.
They could have not allowed the Cyclones to score the first six points of the second half, stealing the lead they had owned the final 19:06 of the first half.
They could have not gone cold time and again, failing to take advantage of their own defense and spells of empty Cyclone possessions.
Instead, they spent the length of the second half playing catch-up, which is a poor way to win a game, and they didn’t.
Iowa State’s 75-74 victory was also Oklahoma’s third straight loss. But for a Bedlam comeback on Jan. 23 in Stillwater, the Sooners haven’t won a conference game since topping then-25th-ranked TCU by a bucket on Jan. 12.
OU could not put possessions together the length of the second half, yet nor did it ever fall behind by more than six points.
And, with 1:51 remaining, following a Jamal Bieniemy steal at the other end, Christian James broke free in the lane and finally pulled OU even for the first time, 69-69, since the second half’s opening minute.
Turning around to play defense, OU first gave up an offensive rebound off a miss from Talen Horton-Tucker, yet then did everything right defensively … until Lindell Wigginton knocked down a fall-away 3-pointer from the right side, beating the shot-clock buzzer with 1:19 remaining.
Manek missed a 3 on OU’s next trip, and not again did the Sooners have the ball with a chance to tie the game.
Wigginton’s trifecta was one of several Cyclone buckets to just beat the shot clock.
“We were able to make them take tough shots,” Sooner forward Kristian Doolittle said, “but they were able to hit them.”
OU fell to 15-8 and 3-7 in the Big 12 Conference. Iowa State improved to 18-5 and 7-3.
Doolittle might have been the best player on the court, finishing with a game-high 19 points, a game-high nine rebounds and a co-game-high 36 minutes, played along with Iowa State’s Nick Babb-Weiler.
Brady Manek finished with 16 points, making 4 of 7 3-point attempts. James finished with 10.
After the Cyclones took their first lead with the second half’s first basket, the Sooners were perpetually behind by 2 to 6 points. They could tread water but never swim in front.
“That’s a great team,” James said of the Cyclones. “We kept plugging at it. We’ve just got to do a better job executing offensively.”
While OU put three players in double figures, Iowa State put six, led by Wigginton’s 18 points.
Marial Shayok added 16, followed by 11 from both Horton-Tucker and Tyrese Haliburton and 10 from Michael Jacobson.
In the interview room afterward, Kruger couched the loss as a strong effort that wasn’t quite enough rather than another loss in a prolonged slump.
“I think the energy was good,” he said. “There were some shots we didn’t quite finish.”
Aside from that, he had few complaints.
The Sooners didn’t shoot horribly, canning 41.2 percent (28 of 65), were efficient from 3-point land, making 8 of 21, and hit 10 of 12 free throws. They only committed seven turnovers.
Yet, but for the opening 10 minutes, they could put no runs together and nothing came easy.
The score was tied only at 0-0 and 69-69, and Jacobson’s tip-in 17 seconds into the second half was the night’s only lead change.
“It’s tough,” said Doolittle.
Need to know
• Who will lead: Oklahoma’s leading scorer coming into the game was Christian James, yet Monday he attempted only 10 shots and finished with just 10 points and was stuck on four until pulling the Sooners within 59-55 with 7:09 remaining. He did not attempt a 3-point shot.
Brady Manek filled in with 6 of 9 shooting and 4 of 7 from 3-point land to finish with 16 points, but he played only 25 minutes as a result of what appeared to be defensive inefficiencies.
Meanwhile, point guard Aaron Calixte, the graduate transfer who was so important to OU during the non-conference portion of the schedule, finished 1 of 10 from the field with a single assist over 25 minutes.
Prior to losing at West Virginia, James had mentioned OU’s six seniors as a reason the Sooners would rebound from a 30-point loss to Baylor. That was two losses ago.
• New lineup: Five games earlier, Sooner coach Lon Kruger had removed Jamuni McNeace and Calixte from the starting lineup in favor of Rashard Odomes and Jamal Bieniemy. Monday, he put Calixte back in but didn’t take Bieienemy out, but Odomes instead, thus starting two point guards. It didn’t exactly work. At the half, though, OU led 36-35, and the tandem of Calixte and Bieniemy had combined for zero points, two assists and three rebounds. The tandem finished with seven points and three assists.
In a game Iowa State won by two points, no Sooner finished with anything worse than a minus-4 plus-minus … Matt Freeman hit his second and third 3-pointers of the conference season in the first half. The first came Jan. 5 against Oklahoma State … OU turned the ball over only seven times, one off their two-time season low. All seven were Iowa State steals.
The Sooners, now 15-8 and 3-7 in the Big 12 Conference, are back home at 3 p.m. Saturday to face No. 18 Texas Tech. The Red Raiders (18-5, 6-4) knocked off West Virginia 81-50 Monday night in Lubbock.