NORMAN, Okla. (AP)—Nate Carter just keeps transforming into something better for Oklahoma.
Once a player who spent more time on the bench than on the floor, Carter has fully entrenched himself as the go-to guy for the Sooners. And it was never more evident than in crunch time of the Bedlam rivalry game.
Carter scored six of his 18 points in the final minutes Wednesday night to help Oklahoma stave off a late rally and preserve a 67-60 win over No. 17 Oklahoma State.
“We’ve found a guy that we can go to now, which is Nate Carter,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. “It’s good when you have a guy that can make good decisions like he does, that can make baskets but can also get fouled and get to the free-throw line and make free throws. … That’s a weapon for us.”
A 6-foot-6 senior, Carter started out the season playing sparingly off the bench. He averaged only 4.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in nonconference play before getting a chance at more playing time when Longar Longar was suspended and Keith Clark got hurt.
He’s responded by becoming the team’s leading scorer in conference play, helping the surprising Sooners move past Oklahoma State in the Big 12 standings.
“He does everything. He’s leading by example, he’s being verbal,” Capel said. “He’s really gained a better understanding of how to talk to guys, what buttons to push with different guys.”
When the Cowboys rallied to cut a nine-point deficit to 59-56, it was Carter that stopped them in their tracks.
He responded with a left-handed layup in the lane and—after back-to-back 3-point misses by Oklahoma State’s JamesOn Curry and Byron Eaton—he hit two foul shots to give the Sooners a 63-56 edge with 53.6 seconds left.
He then put back Austin Johnson’s fast-break miss to seal the win.
“We were just trying to execute the plays and trying to take over the game,” Carter said. “Coach said `It’s winning time.”’
Longar added 13 points and Johnson scored 10 for Oklahoma (14-8, 5-4), which has won all five of its conference home games.
Mario Boggan led the Cowboys (18-5, 4-4) with 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Curry added 17 points. Oklahoma State hasn’t won a road game in over a year, losing eight straight on opponents’ home courts.
The Cowboys’ last road win came Feb. 4, 2006, at Kansas State—a span that started with three straight Big 12 road losses to end last season and also includes a loss at Miami (Fla.) in last season’s NIT. Oklahoma State is 0-4 in true road games this season, although it has won five neutral-site games.
“If we want to make the NCAA tournament, we’ve got to win some road games,” Cowboys coach Sean Sutton said.
Curry had started Oklahoma State’s comeback with a jumper from the foul line, and Boggan brought the Cowboys within five when he tipped in Curry’s missed attempt to complete the three-point play.
David Monds added a basket off an offensive rebound, and Terrel Harris— playing with four fouls—stole the ball from Michael Neal and then earned a trip to the free-throw line at the other end but missed both of his free throws with a chance to get the Cowboys within one with 2:47 remaining.
At 87 percent, Harris entered as the Big 12’s top free-throw shooter.
“Those two free throws seemed to drain our energy a little bit,” Sutton said.
Oklahoma State eliminated a 10-point halftime deficit with an 11-1 run, taking a 40-39 lead on Boggan’s jumper from the left baseline with 13:10 to play.
The Cowboys then committed four straight turnovers to contribute to a 13-2 Oklahoma run that Longar capped with a jumper from the left wing to make it 59-50 with 4:31 to play.
With Carter taking charge, the deficit proved too much to overcome.
That might not have been the case for Oklahoma before Carter’s emergence. But Capel, Oklahoma’s first-year coach, now knows he can count on Carter to score at the post, on jump shots or on the foul line—where he recently set a school record with 37 straight makes.
“That’s a very unique weapon, and we have to figure out more ways to capitalize on his talents,” Capel said.
His leadership followed his success.
“Obviously it helps you as far as being a leader when you’re playing better. It was a little bit more difficult for him earlier in the year, because he wasn’t playing well, so you’re more worried about yourself,” Capel said.
“When you’re playing well and you’re taking care of things, it gives you more flexibility and more confidence to get outside of yourself and try to help bring someone else up.”