MANHATTAN, Kan. – Steven Pledger scored 30 points and Oklahoma weathered a second-half charge by No. 22 Kansas State and some tense moments down the stretch to give coach Lon Kruger a 63-60 victory over his former team Saturday night.
Sam Grooms made a key steal in the closing minute and two free throws with 5 seconds left for the Sooners (13-7, 3-5 Big 12), who watched as Rodney McGruder's potential tying 3-pointer from the wing at the buzzer bounced off the back iron and fell to the floor.
McGruder finished with 19 points and Angel Rodriguez had 10 for the Wildcats (15-5, 4-4), who trailed by 10 in the second half but went on a 12-2 run and later pulled into the lead.
The Sooners led 59-56 on a pair of free throws by Pledger with 1:07 left, but Will Spradling trimmed the lead to a point on a slicing layup moments later.
It was still 59-58 when the Wildcats' Jordan Henriquez corralled a loose ball on defense with just over 10 seconds remaining, but Grooms managed to poke it loose before it could be cleared.
Romero Osby hit two free throws to restore Oklahoma's three-point lead, and the Sooners fouled Henriquez on purpose with 5.2 seconds left. He made both fouls shots to get Kansas State within 61-60, but Grooms came through with his free throws to make it 63-60.
It was Kruger's first game back in Bramlage Coliseum as the opposing coach.
Kruger was a star for the Wildcats in the 1970s, twice earning Big 8 player of the year honors, and later returned as an assistant coach. Kruger then came back as head coach when Jack Hartman retired and led the Wildcats to four consecutive NCAA tournaments.
He received a nice round of applause when he walked onto the court before the game.
Then the teams got down to business, and Rodriguez gave the Wildcats a spark in the opening minutes, scoring eight of their first 13 points and helping them take an 18-12 lead.
Rodriguez picked up his second foul at the 12-minute mark, though, and Oklahoma finally settled down behind Pledger's hot hand and heady play. The Sooners quickly reeled in the Wildcats and then pulled ahead when Andrew Fitzgerald scored with 3:21 left to make it 25-24.
Cameron Clark went soaring for an alley-oop dunk on Oklahoma's next possession, and Pledger's 3-pointer just before halftime gave the Sooners a 34-28 lead.
Kansas State introduced several former players and coaches as part of its reunion weekend during intermission, including greats such as Clent Stewart and Ernie Barrett.
Wildcats coach Frank Martin probably wished he could have suited them up.
Spradling had fits trying to guard Pledger, who came in averaging 17.2 points but had 18 in the first 20 minutes alone. He consistently beat the sophomore guard off the dribble and, when McGruder switched onto him, buried an array of outside jumpers.
The lead swelled to 40-30 early in the second half before Kansas State mounted a charge.
Henriquez started it with a putback, Rodriguez scooped in a layup and McGruder capped it off with a jumper that knotted the game 40-all.
The Wildcats pulled ahead 44-42 when Spradling was fouled by Pledger going to the basket and made both free throws. It was the fourth foul on Pledger and he took a seat on the bench with 10:55 left, but Kansas State couldn't capitalize when he was out of the game.
He checked back in at the 6:48 mark and immediately got to the foul line, making both free throws. Pledger then buried back-to-back 3s with about 5 minutes left, giving the Sooners a 55-51 advantage and hushing a sellout crowd stuffed inside Bramlage Coliseum.
Oklahoma managed the tense final minutes with aplomb, allowing Kruger to walk off the court with a 4-2 record against his former team, victorious in his return to Kansas State.