NORMAN, Okla. (AP)—Gardner-Webb was oh so close to another memorable upset on the road.
The Bulldogs just couldn’t stop Blake Griffin.
Griffin had career highs of 35 points and 21 rebounds and No. 12 Oklahoma rallied to beat Gardner-Webb 80-76 on Saturday.
Griffin’s three-point play with 2:06 left gave the Sooners a 76-74 lead, and Austin Johnson hit three free throws in the final 20.6 seconds to help the Sooners avoid the upset.
“I feel very fortunate to get this win,” coach Jeff Capel said. “Gardner-Webb was tremendous. I felt they played with a sense of urgency. They played like a team that was desperate and hungry for a win. … We played like a team that just thought we had to show up.
“Hopefully we can learn a valuable lesson from this.”
Griffin was 14-of-20 from the field and added a career-best five assists and three steals for Oklahoma (4-0). His 35 points were the most by an Oklahoma player since Jason Detrick scored 35 against Colorado in 2004.
Griffin posted his fourth straight double-double, joining Alvan Adams, Garfield Heard, Ernie Abercrombie and Wayman Tisdale as the only Oklahoma players ever to do so. Adams, a former star for the Phoenix Suns, attended the game.
“We came out flat,” Griffin said. “You’ve got to give credit to Gardner-Webb. For the first 36 minutes, they wanted it more than us and it obviously showed. But we did a good job in the last three or four minutes of actually bearing down and playing.”
Aaron Linn scored 22 points for Gardner-Webb (0-3), which beat Kentucky by 16 at Rupp Arena last year. The Bulldogs have lost their three games this season by a combined eight points, but coach Rick Scruggs still seemed upbeat after the near-miss.
“Today’s game came down to too much Blake Griffin on the court,” he said. “We just couldn’t handle him and didn’t have anybody that could match up with him. I thought our guys put a great effort together.
“It does us our program a world of good to come in and play in front of that kind of fan support that you have here.”
Oklahoma, which played its 500th game at the Lloyd Noble Center, moved to 428-72 in its home facility. But if the Sooners figured Gardner-Webb—a 16-16 squad last season—would offer a break, they were mistaken.
“After Rupp, this group will be able to handle almost any environment,” Scruggs said.
The Bulldogs led Oklahoma by as many as five deep into the second half, thanks in part to 19 points and seven assists from Grayson Flittner, who went 5-of-10 from 3-point range and had two four-point plays.
Joshua Henley added 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Bulldogs.
Meanwhile, without sharpshooting guard Cade Davis—who missed the game with a sprained ankle—Oklahoma struggled from beyond the arc (7-of-27) and the free-throw line, where the Sooners were just 17-of-28.
But Griffin, a preseason All-America, came through with big buckets when the Sooners needed them, breaking a 71-71 tie with 2:49 left before his three-point play 43 seconds later.
Freshman guard Willie Warren added 17 points for Oklahoma. Taylor Griffin had 12 points and seven rebounds, helping the taller Sooners post a narrow 43-39 rebounding edge.
Oklahoma led 80-76 with 2.7 seconds left before escaping what could have been a disastrous play by Taylor Griffin, who fouled Linn on a half-court shot with 0.4 seconds left. Linn missed all three free throws.
“There are a lot of teaching points, from the whole game,” Capel said. “We have to get better from that. We can’t do things like that. That’s not winning basketball.”
Gardner-Webb led briefly early in the game and was tied with the Sooners 7 minutes in. Johnson started a 7-0 run with a 3-pointer to push Oklahoma’s lead to 11 points, but the Bulldogs cut it to 42-37 by halftime.
Griffin already had a double-double by that point, with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
The Bulldogs led 67-62 with 6:06 left after a 3-pointer by Henley, but they only scored one basket the rest of the way.
Gardner-Webb, which lost 69-55 to Oklahoma last season in New York despite hitting 14 3-pointers, went 10-of-24 from behind the arc.
Blake Griffin had 21 rebounds for the second straight game and has broken or tied his career rebounding record in each of the Sooners’ games this season.
Scruggs said that the Bulldogs planned to attend the football game between No. 2 Texas Tech and No. 5 Oklahoma on Saturday night and that they’d be cheering for the Sooners. He said Oklahoma athletic department officials agreed to provide Gardner-Webb’s traveling party with tickets to the game.