NORMAN, Okla. (AP)—Blake Griffin had mixed emotions after No. 2 Oklahoma’s first game with such a high ranking in nearly two decades. He was somewhat relieved, but a bit embarrassed, too.
His brother, Taylor Griffin, had to hit a tiebreaking layup with 46.4 seconds left to complete the Sooners’ rally from a late nine-point deficit in a 77-71 victory over Texas A&M on Wednesday night.
The Sooners (22-1, 8-0 Big 12) blew a 15-point lead and found themselves trailing 68-59 with 6:25 to play before rallying behind the defense of Juan Pattillo.
“For us to play as poorly as we did and for us to come back, it says a lot about our team,” said Blake Griffin, the Sooners’ preseason All-America. “But at the same time, there’s no reason why it should have been that close.”
The Sooners’ star thought his team relaxed after building the early lead, and only reached their best 23-game start in school history because of some late heroics from a player who was riding the bench less than a month ago.
Pattillo, who only came out of his redshirt season on Jan. 12, blocked a dunk attempt by Josh Carter and a layup by Donald Sloan as Oklahoma reeled off eight straight points to cut into the deficit before Griffin’s game-winner.
“It was almost as if he wasn’t going to let us lose, and he did it with energy plays,” Sooners coach Jeff Capel said. “That’s what he does for us, and we need him that way all the time.”
Capel had benched Pattillo again for the first part of the second half, only inserting him after Oklahoma had dug itself a nine-point deficit against the Aggies (17-6, 3-5), who had been 16-0 when leading with 5 minutes left.
“He made two big-time blocks. Just big-time blocks,” Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon said.
Blake Griffin had 16 points and 14 rebounds for his 19th double-double and Taylor Griffin finished with 13 points. Willie Warren added 12 points and Austin Johnson scored 11 for Oklahoma, which exceeded the previous best start of 21-2 by the 1985-86 team. The Sooners’ 1927-28 team finished 18-0.
Carter led the Aggies with 15 points, while Chinemelu Elonu added 13 points and 12 rebounds and Bryan Davis had 13 points. Texas A&M was bidding for its third straight win after a 1-4 start in conference play.
“I love where our team’s going right now. I love our effort,” Turgeon said. “We’ll make a run here late in the season. We’re getting better every game, so I was proud of our group.”
The Sooners moved up this week to their highest ranking since heading into the 1990 NCAA tournament at No. 1. They got quite a scare from an Aggies team that went 16 minutes without scoring in its last visit to Norman.
Carter and Nathan Walkup combined to score all of Texas A&M’s points during a 13-0 run that came largely while Blake Griffin was on the bench and seemed to be struggling to catch his breath. Carter bracketed three 3-pointers around a two-handed, fastbreak dunk by Walkup before Griffin returned and missed two free throws.
Walkup then added a putback off Carter’s missed 3-pointer giving the Aggies their nine-point lead.
Blake Griffin hit two free throws to start Oklahoma’s comeback, and Elonu fouled out with 5:36 left, clutching both hands to his face after he was whistled for jumping underneath Pattillo on a rebound. The Aggies didn’t have another field goal the rest of the way.
“Man, we missed him,” Turgeon said. “We didn’t score another bucket after he went out of the game.”
Pattillo, who finished with four blocks, then came through on the defensive end and also curled around the right side of the lane for a layup that brought Oklahoma within 68-67. Warren tied it at 69 with two free throws with 1:52 remaining, and Carter and Sloan both missed chances to put the Aggies back ahead before Taylor Griffin’s tiebreaking basket.
“Their defense picked up, but we still had our opportunities,” Carter said.
The Aggies are 0-11 against teams in the top two, including 0-8 against opponents ranked No. 2.
Blake Griffin played part of the game with a sleeve on his right arm, but he took it off as Texas A&M completed its comeback from a 15-point first-half deficit in the opening minutes of the second half.
“There’s no excuse for how I played,” he said. “We just got outhustled.”
Texas A&M took charge on the glass to claw its way back into the game. Davis had a tip-in and a two-handed putback jam in an 11-3 spurt that helped the Aggies cut a 27-12 deficit to eight by halftime. Texas A&M tied it at 42 on Carter’s 3-pointer from the right wing that followed two offensive rebounds.
Turgeon complimented Capel for making the tough decision to burn Pattillo’s redshirt halfway through the season.
“They put all hands on deck. If they’re going to make a run at the Big 12 championship and the NCAA tournament, they’re going to need their best players on the court,” Turgeon said. “Juan Pattillo’s one of their better players, especially defensively, and he made some big plays late.”