STILLWATER – Oklahoma senior guard Christian James grabbed teammate Jamal Bieniemy by the back of the head as the two walked off the court and wouldn’t let go.
Eventually, he had to.
The ESPN television crew wanted to talk to the freshman who halted OU’s Big 12 road losing streak at 11 with a 70-61 win Wednesday at Oklahoma State’s Gallagher-Iba Arena.
One year after Trae Young attempted a Big 12-record 20 3-pointers, hitting eight of them to rally the Sooners from a 19-point deficit and force overtime, Bieniemy led OU in his own way, scoring a career-high 17 points on 6-of-6 shooting, including 3-of-3 from 3-point land, erasing another 19-point deficit.
Only this time, the Sooners (14-5, 3-4 Big 12 ) got the win.
“He’s really mature,” OSU coach Mike Boynton said. “He knows that even though it’s not necessarily his team, he’s got a really important role. And even though they run things through Christian [James] and Kristian Doolittle, when there are opportunities for him to score, he’s ready for them.”
A wave of relief flooded over the Sooners as they left the court, celebrating their first Big 12 road victory since last season’s conference opener at TCU on Dec. 30, 2017.
The fear of losing another became apparent when, within the first 10 minutes, OU was already down 28-9. OSU (8-11, 2-5) was red-hot from behind the 3-point arc, hitting 6 of 8, as many as it made in its Bedlam loss in Norman on 18 fewer attempts.
Norman North product Lindy Waters looked unstoppable, hitting his first five shots while also dishing out three assists as the Cowboys pulled away. He finished with 20 points to lead all scorers but fouled out with 25.9 seconds remaining.
“I’m proud of them for [not panicking],” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “They weren’t pleased with the way it started, but they didn’t panic.”
OU fought back with 10-0 and 11-0 runs to close within six points, but the final 5:35 was when the Sooners separated.
They held the Cowboys to zero points over that stretch, forcing eight missed shots, including five from beyond the 3-point arc. Bieniemy punctuated the game-defining play, drilling a 3-pointer as he was knocked to the floor with 3:04 left to give OU a 66-61 lead.
“Two consecutive games, he’s run the show,” Kruger said. “He’s been great, giving us good direction and he really has good instincts defensively, too. Couldn’t be happier for him. That’s what we needed from him, and he stepped up and delivered.”
OU guard Rashard Odomes flexed to the crowd and screamed so loudly he could be heard clearly from the third level of the already noisy arena. He had made it happen, diving for a loose rebound and then getting the ball out to Christian James, who unselfishly differed to the hot hand, Bieniemy, for the game’s most important bucket.
“That was a winning play,” Boynton said. “When we start making that play, we’ll win. That’s blue collar, dirty work. Nobody gets credit for doing that. Everybody looks at Jamal, ‘Man, he made a great shot.’ Somebody had to dive on that floor to give him a chance.”
James, who entered the game as OU’s leading scorer, averaging 17.2 points per game, didn’t score until 11:38 remained. He finished with a season-low five points, sinking 2 of 7 from the field with five rebounds.
Brady Manek finished with 15 points, Miles Reynolds added 13 off the bench and Odomes added 11 to go with five assists, tying a career high.
But the key was defense that held OSU to 9 of 24 shooting and forced eight turnovers in the second half, making sure the Sooners’ away-from-home losing streak came to an end before it could do any more damage.
“Road wins are hard, and we haven’t had many,” Kruger said. “It’s a great confidence booster, especially given the way it started, the guys fighting back. It’s as much a lot of satisfaction as anything. I’m proud of the guys.”