Sooners dash UT Arlington men's hopes for upset

ARLINGTON -- Upsets aren't uncommon at the start of the season, and UT Arlington almost joined the list by giving Oklahoma a scare on Friday night.

The Mavericks fed off a record crowd at the $78 million College Park Center, caught the Sooners on a poor shooting night and were able to overcome a 17-point deficit early in the second half to tie the game with 2:35 left.

Oklahoma, though, never surrendered its lead late in the game and held on for a 63-59 victory.

"Tough battle," OU coach Lon Kruger said. "A ballgame that could have gone either way. They're very well-prepared, so what they did tonight was no surprise. We're fortunate to get out of here with a win."

Said UTA coach Scott Cross: "I was proud of our guys, battled for 40 minutes. To have an opportunity at the end speaks a lot to the type of character of this team."

The makings of an upset were seen early.

The Sooners scored the first points of the night, a 3-pointer by Je'lon Hornbeak, but the Mavs answered with a 12-0 run.

UTA led until the six-minute mark in the first half, when OU took a 22-19 lead on a 3 by Steven Pledger in the midst of a 22-1 run. Sooners freshman guard Buddy Hield scored the final 11 points of that run to put OU up 33-20.

The Sooners seemed in line for an easy win when they took a 47-30 lead with 15:14 left, quieting the crowd of 6,421.

But the Mavs battled back and the crowd came back to life. Kevin Butler's layup with 6:20 left made it a one-possession game, 53-50.

UTA kept the pressure on from there.

Senior center Jordan Reves had a chance to tie the game at the foul line with 2:37 left but missed both free throws. However, he got his own rebound and knocked down a short jumper to tie it at 57-57.

OU answered on the next possession when Pledger drained a 3.

UTA had its chances down the stretch. Butler might have had the best look at a 3 from the left wing with 42 seconds left but missed.

"It always feels good coming out, but when the outcome is not good, you just get back on defense," said Butler, who had a team-high 16 points. "You can't think about it."

Hornbeak, an Arlington Grace Prep product, essentially sealed the game for the Sooners by knocking down a pair of free throws to make it 62-57 with 23 seconds left. The Mavs made a quick layup to pull within three, but Pledger made 1 of 2 free throws.

"If we learn how to play for 40 minutes, we can compete with anyone in the country," said UTA forward Karol Gruszecki, who had 15 points.

Even though they didn't pull off the upset, Friday still might go down as a win for the Mavs. After all, they showed they can be an attractive team for bigger schools such as OU to schedule as a nonconference road game.

Kruger told Cross afterward that the hard-fought game was more beneficial to his team than a 30-point blowout at home would be. It also doesn't hurt that opposing teams can invite potential recruits from the Metroplex to the game.

"If they look at it that way, it can help," Cross said. "But it can work both ways. They could see it as Oklahoma almost lost. Just depends on how they view it."

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @drewdavison

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