Javian McCollum’s buzzer-beater downs OSU, hands OU crucial tournament boost

Javian McCollum’s buzzer-beater downs OSU, hands OU crucial tournament boost

Javian McCollum closed the final Big 12 Bedlam with a game-winner for the history books. Now the Sooners can breathe a little easier about their March Madness resume.

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Feb 24, 2024, 8:39pm CST

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Feb 24, 2024, 8:39pm CST

(Eli Lederman’s “OU Week in Review” newsletter hits inboxes every Saturday morning. Subscribe here.)

STILLWATER — You might not have known it from watching, but Oklahoma drew up a play before Javian McCollum put Bedlam on ice (for the time being, at least) with his buzzer-beating, overtime dagger at Gallagher-Iba Arena Saturday afternoon.

The Sooners trailed Oklahoma State 82-81 and McCollum was 4-of-15 from the field when Porter Moser called a timeout with 12.5 seconds remaining in the extra period. Undeterred by McCollum’s shooting struggles, OU’s third-year coach designed an action to send the guard he considers the Sooners’ best foul shooter and shot-maker to the basket anyway.

OU inbounded and set up to clear a lane for McCollum in the left side of the Cowboys’ zone defense. OSU came out of the timeout in man-to-man instead, and suddenly the last scheduled Bedlam men’s basketball game was coming down to a one-on-one matchup between McCollum and Cowboys guard Jamryon Keller. 

McCollum dribbled to the top of the key, probed inside, then dribbled some more out to the left flank. For a moment, it seemed, he had nowhere to go. Then, with 1.7 seconds remaining, McCollum stepped back and launched the arching, fadeaway 3-pointer that silenced the booming home crowd as time expired. 

McCollum’s jumper was the winner in the Sooners’ 84-82 victory and the moment that ended a Bedlam finale for the ages. It might just be the shot that sends OU to the NCAA Tournament, too.

“In practices, all year, he has (had) that ability to make tough shots,” Moser said afterward. “That was a very tough shot. It was a great play by Javian to cap an amazing game.”

McCollum’s shot capped the Stillwater thriller, the 62nd and final Big 12 regular season meeting between the Sooners and Cowboys before OU departs for the SEC in the summer.

“I’ve been a part of a few games that have all the elements of a classic, so to speak,” OSU coach Mike Boynton said. “That one certainly ranks up there.”

The Sooners (19-8, 7-7 Big 12) shot 14.3% from 3-point range in the first half and trailed the Cowboys (12-15, 4-10) for more than 34 minutes of total game time. Yet, buoyed by 20 points from Rivaldo Soares in his return from an ankle injury and another 16 from Otega Oweh, OU forged a second-half comeback and forced overtime with help from Javon Small’s miss from the foul line in the closing seconds of regulation.

The Bedlam foes combined for 22 points in the extra period. McCollum accounted for five with makes on each of his two field goal attempts, finishing with the game-winning triple that came after Moser decided to put the ball in the hand of his struggling guard.

“The feeling was great just knowing that my teammates and my coaches trust me in that moment,” McCollum said. “We had a couple of big plays before that. (Saores) hit a big three. Otega (had an) and-one. (Milos Uzan) came down and hit an and-one. It was just a whole bunch adding up to it. I just hit the shot.”

McCollum’s buzzer-beater was a testament to his enduring confidence. The Siena transfer’s first run through the Big 12 has been a journey of ups and downs this winter.

McCollum entered Saturday scoring 13.4 points per game (17th among Big 12 scorers) and leading the league in free throw shooting at 94.9% from the line. Still, the 6-foot-2, 160-pound guard has seen his defense picked on in the nation’s toughest conference and McCollum’s Big 12 game log is blotted with struggles against Texas (3-of-11 FG), Texas Tech (2-of-11), UCF (2-of-10) and a 1-for-7 showing in a win over Oklahoma earlier this month.

Before Saturday’s visit to Stillwater, McCollum spoke about maintaining his poise and positivity in the face of his struggles and back-to-back losses to Baylor and Kansas last week. OU’s break in midweek ahead of Bedlam was a help. McCollum explained he spent the time off watching film and working on his shooting form. 

“I’m real confident going into this Oklahoma State game,” he said Friday. 

Moser’s confidence in McCollum might have been tested for much of Saturday as his veteran guard opened 1-of-7 from the field, then made only two of his seven field goals in the second half. Instead, Moser encouraged McCollum to keep pushing. 

“You can ask him what I told him. I said, ‘Keep shooting.’ He took some really good ones in the first half, he just missed. I think he missed his first five. I just kept telling him, ‘Keep shooting.’

“I took him out, offense-defense on one play, I took my arms around him and said, ‘Hey, you’re going to come in and keep playing. You’re going to make a big play.’ Total confidence in him.”

That moment arrived in the final stages of overtime. 

John Michael-Wright’s second 3-pointer of the day charged the announced crowd of 11,370 and restored the OSU advantage with 1:28 remaining. Oweh’s turnover on the ensuing possession set up two more chances for the Cowboys to close the door on Bedlam that OSU failed to convert.

Jalon Moore grabbed the rebound on Small’s missed lay-up. Moser called timeout. And moments later, McCollum had the ball in his hands for the shot that gave OU one of its most important — and timely wins of the season. 

“I was trying to get there, get fouled or make the layup,” McCollum said. “But I had to maneuver because he cut off the drive and I just ended up going to a move I always work on and that’s the step back.”

McCollum’s winner and Saturday’s victory hands the Sooners lasting bragging rights, at least until the Bedlam schools meet again as non-conference foes. It also gives OU’s NCAA Tournament resume a much-needed boost at a critical juncture.

The Sooners entered Saturday at No. 39 in the NCAA NET Rankings with three Quadrant 1 wins and three wins in Quadrant Two. In his latest 64-team projection, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi listed OU as a No. 8 seed in the tournament field. 

However, the Sooners still hit the weekend with work to do in building their case for a first NCAA Tournament appearance since Moser took over in 2021. 

Inside the program, eight conference wins have been long viewed as the benchmark to gain a postseason berth. OU began Saturday with six Big 12 victories, riding back-to-back losses before games at No. 6 Iowa State and home with No. 2 Houston waiting ahead this coming week.

NCAA Tournament teams don’t typically lose five consecutive games in late February and early March. McCollum’s winner ensures that won’t happen and better positions the Sooners to bolster their postseason resume in remaining regular season games with Iowa State, Houston, Cincinnati and Texas.

“We think we’re the best team in the country,” Soares said. “That’s the type of confidence we have to have against every team that we play and it just shows.”

On Saturday, the Sooners were at least the best team in Oklahoma. That’s enough to send OU into a daunting week breathing easier about its NCAA Tournament hopes.

For that, Moser and Co. can thank Javian McCollum.

Oklahoma guard Javian McCollum (2) shoots the game-winning 3-pointer in overtime during an NCAA basketball game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024.

Oklahoma guard Javian McCollum knocked down the game-winning 3-pointer as time expired inside Gallagher-Iba Arena, handing the Sooners a critical win in Saturday’s Bedlam finale in Stillwater. (Nathan J. Fish/The Oklahoman)

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Eli Lederman reports on the University of Oklahoma for Sellout Crowd. He began his professional career covering the University of Missouri with the Columbia Missourian and later worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before two years writing on the Sooners and Cowboys at the Tulsa World. Born and raised in Mamaroneck, New York, Lederman grew up a rabid consumer of the New York sports pages and an avid fan of the New York Mets. He entered sportswriting at 14 years old and later graduated from the University of Missouri. Away from the keyboard, he can usually be found exploring the Oklahoma City food scene or watching/playing fútbol (read: soccer). He can be reached at [email protected].

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