Oklahoma guard Trae Young turned, picked up the ball and calmly pointed to the ref.
The Sooners led Oregon 83-73 with 2:48 remaining in their final game of the PK80 tournament Sunday at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon. Even with that lead, it wouldn't have been surprising to see the Ducks, fresh off a final four appearance, comeback to beat OU. Last year, that scenario played out in gyms all across the country.
Late leads for the Sooners would fizzle away thanks to chaos. It had to drive former Kansas State point guard Lon Kruger, coach of the Sooners, crazy, as consistency from any player with the ball in his hands was scarce.
That wasn't the case Sunday.
On the play where Young called a timeout, he could have easily lost his composure. Oregon executed a trap to perfection, finally encircling the Sooner freshman with three defenders. Instead, he didn't force it. It was nothing new, as he had repeated this mantra in his head since OU slowed the pace for the final five minutes, attempting to run out the clock with another late lead.
“It was excellent,” Kruger said. “You look at that last 10 possessions, a combination of playing time and score, where we were ahead, using a good portion of clock and then getting to the free-throw line, that's ideal. Burn seconds and get two points out of it, he did an excellent job there.”
In the first-round PK80 loss to Arkansas on Thanksgiving, OU didn't get the chance to sit on the ball, trailing nearly the entire game.
Still, Young tried to shove jump shots through the basket. He ignored open teammates and to his own admission, didn't live up to his potential as a leader.
“I don't think I did a good job against Arkansas,” Young said. “I know the ball is going to be in my hands a lot. I need to learn from the Arkansas game, and I think I did pretty well with that against Oregon.”
Against the Ducks, he took his final 3-pointer of his 43-point outing, the most by any OU freshman not named Wayman Tisdale, with 4:37 left.
“I didn't realize that,” Young said. “But that was just me focusing on time management, knowing what's a good shot and what's not in that moment.”
So much had worked for OU to get to this point. Guards Rashard Odomes and Christian James had infuriated Oregon's leading scorer Payton Pritchard defensively. After scoring 29 in an overtime win over Depaul the game prior, Pritchard shot 5 for 15, 0 for 5 from deep, for 10 points and six turnovers.
Kruger's second-half offensive adjustments disrupted Oregon's defense, and OU got a lift from its bench, led by center Jamuni McNeace's 10 points and six rebounds in 14 minutes.
But plenty of that happened last year, and the Sooners still went 11-20, Kruger's lowest win total since his first season at Florida in 1990-91.
“We were really missing that last year,” Odomes said. “We really didn't do well at the end. Since, we've had [Young] here to help us, it's been great."
It's likely, the Sooners won't need it against North Texas at 7 p.m. Thursday at Lloyd Noble Center. The Mean Green (4-3) mustered just 49 points in a loss at Georgia Tech last week. Keeping up the Sooners, the nation's third-best scoring offense at 96.4 points per game, won't be easy.
Still, the win over Oregon could give the Sooners confidence, just like last year's blown leads sewed doubt in their minds.