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January 17, 2009

Johnson, Sooners survive in College Station

The fifth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners have been finding ways to win all season. They knew their trip to College Station this weekend would be no cakewalk, and the Aggies did not disappoint. With star big man Blake Griffin spending most of the game in foul trouble, the Sooners needed someone to step up.

For the second game in a row, senior point guard Austin Johnson answered the call as he helped the Sooners (17-1, 3-0) hang on to a victory over Texas A&M Aggies (15-3, 1-2), 69-63.

Johnson ended an impressive performance with 19 points, seven assists, and two blocked shots.

"Austin Johnson was tremendous all game long," Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel said. "He wanted the ball at the end of the game and he made plays for us."

Oklahoma did not hesitate to assert themselves early as they shot out to a 9-0 lead on the back of Blake Griffin.

The Sooners increased their lead to 19-6 before head coach Jeff Capel inserted four players off of the bench, giving his starters a breather.

The Aggies took advantage of the substitution as they chipped away at the 13 point lead, seizing momentum near the end of the first half.

Foul trouble for Blake Griffin left him on the bench a large portion of the first half. The absence of Griffin combined with several Sooner turnovers and key play by BJ Holmes and Josh Carter for the Aggies helped to shorten the Oklahoma lead to 30-25 by halftime.

Despite spending 16 minutes on the bench, Blake Griffin finished the game with 16 points and 6 rebounds on the afternoon.

The second half began with both teams exchanging blows until Austin Johnson and Cade Davis connected on three-point shots on consecutive possessions to push the Sooners lead to 14.

Defensively, the Aggies turned up the pressure with 10 minutes remaining. At the 10-minute mark Texas A&M began a 20-8 run to close the game to within four. Johnson responded by connecting on a three-point field goal from well beyond the perimeter line to give the Sooners a 59-52 lead.

Moments later Donald Sloan delivered with his own three-point field goal to cut the Sooners lead to 59-57.

Austin Johnson found open real estate once again, though, and hushed the rabid Aggie fans yet again with a three-point connection with 1:36 remaining in the game and the Sooners cruised through the final 90 seconds for the victory.

"I'm used to stepping up late and making shots," said Austin Johnson. "I work on shooting deep 3s and when they left my hand they felt good."

UCLA transfer Ryan Wright saw plenty of time in the game for the Sooners in place of Blake Griffin. Wright finished with five points and three rebounds in 16 minutes, but was a defensive anchor with Griffin on the bench.

Junior guard Tony Crocker turned his ankle in the second half as he was driving to the lane. He was taken out of the game and never returned.

Crocker finished his birthday performance with a disappointing five points and six turnovers, but played tremendous defense throughout.

After the game, head coach Jeff Capel said the injury to Crocker was minor and he is not expected to miss any time.

The defense from the entire Oklahoma basketball team was the story for the evening. Freshman guard Willie Warren slowed down Donald Sloan all game long holding him well below his scoring average and limiting his impact as a distributor for the Aggies offense.

Sloan finished with eight points on 3-of-9 shooting.

The Aggies offense was led by Josh Carter, who seems to have found his perimeter stroke over the past few games. He connected on 3-of-5 three-point shots and led Texas A&M in points (17) and rebounds (7) on the afternoon.

Junior big man Chinemelu Elonu came into the game with three consecutive double-doubles, but he found no success against the Sooners stifling defense Saturday afternoon. He finished the game with seven points and five rebounds and was subbed in and out of the game with foul trouble.

The Sooners held the lead from the opening possession until the final buzzer. With the victory they maintain their stance atop the Big XII Conference alongside Kansas (12-4, 1-0). Next up for the Sooners, the Nebraska Cornhuskers (11-4, 1-1) travel to Lloyd Noble Center on Wednesday at 8 p.m. CST.


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