Tanner Groves hadn’t been able to find a rhythm all night.
The senior center committed four fouls during OU’s ESPN Events Invitational semifinals game against Seton Hall on Friday, which limited him to a season-low 15 minutes. But no minutes were more important than his final few down the stretch.
The Sooners held a three-possession lead over the Pirates with 2:44 remaining when a shot by Grant Sherfield got deflected. The ball fell into the hands of Groves, who quickly flicked a floater in the lane as the shot clock expired and watched it find the bottom of the net.
OU then purposely went to Groves on its next possession, and this time he cashed in on a 3-pointer from the top of the arc.
That proved to be the dagger for the Sooners, who earned a 77-64 win. OU (5-1) will face Ole Miss in the tournament’s title game on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. in Kissimmee, Florida.
"He made a handful of key plays when he got back in there with four fouls," head coach Porter Moser said of Groves. "I just thought we played really tough... It was a Big 12 level intensity game."
Here are three takeaways from the win:
Elite defense can’t stop Grant Sherfield
Seton Hall’s KC Ndefo won last season’s Lefty Driesell National Defensive Player of the Year award.
And even he had no answer for Sherfield in the first half.
OU trailed 25-24 with 4:05 remaining when Sherfield sized up Ndefo on the left wing. The senior Sooner had just made a pair of layups a few minutes earlier, but this time he tried his luck with a 3-pointer.
Ndefo got a hand up, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Sherfield from sinking the deep ball and giving OU a 27-25 lead.
Sherfield went back to attacking Ndefo with 2:15 left until halftime. This time he began to drive before pulling up for a deep 2-pointer.
Ndefo got his hand up once again, and once again he watched Sherfield’s contested shot find the bottom of the net.
Sherfield racked up 13 points in the first half on 6-for-9 shooting from the floor and 1-for-2 shooting from deep. He finished with a season-high 25 points to go along with three assists.
"My teammates were in my ear just instilling confidence in me," Sherfield said. "They just tell me a lot of things that kinda get me going. I kinda lean on them... I kept it rolling for the team."
Jacob Groves provides key spacing for the Sooners
Sherfield had nowhere to go.
OU trailed 41-37 with 16:55 left in the game when the senior guard penetrated Seton Hall’s defense and got caught in the air. He heaved a desperation pass to Jacob Groves, who was running to his spot on the right wing.
Groves caught the ball on the move, set his feet and drilled a 3-pointer before his defender could close in. The senior forward then had a few words for the crowd as he confidently jogged down the court.
Groves finished with 10 points on 3-for-5 shooting from behind the arc.
Groves has rediscovered his range as of late. He shot a career-high 36.4 percent from deep two seasons ago at Eastern Washington, but that number dropped to 30.7 percent last season with OU.
This season has been a different story. Groves is shooting 40 percent from deep, and his spacing has been crucial for an OU team that gets the majority of its buckets from 2-point range.
Sam Godwin steps up amid Tanner Groves’ foul struggles
Sam Godwin was in the right place at the right time.
OU trailed 49-47 with 13:44 left in the game when C.J. Noland launched a shot from deep and got it blocked by Seton Hall’s Al-Amir Dawes. Fortunately for the Sooners, the ball fell into the hands of Godwin, who was jostling for position down low.
The walk-on forward then went up for a layup that tied the game at 49-49.
Godwin seemed to be in the right place all night for the Sooners, who were in dire need of his services. Starting center Tanner Groves committed four fouls, which limited him to just 15 minutes of action.
But Godwin stepped up off the bench. The Ada native erupted for 12 points and 6 rebounds, three on the offensive glass, in 21 minutes.
"I was just trying to bring hustle plays and energy to the team," Godwin said. "I feel like that's my biggest asset, just flying around and getting us extra possessions."
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OU men's basketball: Sooners defeat Seton Hall in ESPN Invitational