NORMAN – The Lloyd Noble Center hadn’t seen a scene like this in years.
In front of almost 11,000 spectators on Saturday, OU easily won 93:69 against second-placed Alabama. The Sooners played their best basketball of the season and a sea of fans stormed the court as the final buzzer sounded.
Seniors Tanner and Jacob Groves celebrated on the half court. OU football players such as Reggie Grimes and Key Lawrence danced among the crowd. “OU” chants echoed through the arena.
And yet there was Porter Moser still sitting in his seat on the Sooners’ bench.
The 54-year-old coach admits his younger self would have joined in the celebrations. But this time he just wanted to soak it all up.
“I just sat there and said, ‘That was the vision,'” Moser said. “That kind of excitement with the student body, I thought it was great. The best crowd I’ve had since I’ve been here and I was really happy for the guys.”
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The Sooners’ victory came at the perfect time.
OU had faltered in three games and is no longer in the picture of the NCAA tournament, but ESPN’s Joe Lunardi now predicts they are among the last four teams to make the cut. The Sooners also jumped from 65th to 55th in the latest NET rankings.
But OU’s win over Alabama isn’t just a big win for this season. It’s a huge win for Moser, who in his second season as the team’s head coach is still trying to build the culture.
Part of that culture is a passionate fan base, although growing that fan base despite Moser’s best efforts has been a challenge.
He has held events with OU fraternities. He has taken part in the Sooners Caravan Tour. He gave countless high fives to the students both before and after the games.
Those efforts only made Saturday’s moment all the more enjoyable as Moser watched the seeds he had planted reach full bloom.
“I really made an effort to connect with the students,” Moser said. “Because that’s my long-term vision, to create a nocturnal atmosphere here. … That is the vision. I think college basketball has to be fun for the students. I just find it so intimate, a basketball thing. That was a great scene. I just recorded it.”
Ranked wins go a long way in making that vision a reality, which is why OU’s losses in the first half of Big 12 play could hurt more than usual.
OU has lost three home conference games—to 10th-ranked Texas, 12th-ranked Iowa State, and 17th-ranked Baylor. Combined, they had just six points.
The recent loss to Baylor was still fresh in Moser’s mind as he watched Saturday’s turnout, which marked a season-high for attendance.
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“The students weren’t here for the first few losses,” Moser said. “But at the Baylor game, they came out and gave everything they had.
But OU fans went home happy on Saturday, as did Jalen Hill.
Hill is a fourth-year Sooner and the only scholar on the roster who played under former head coach Lon Kruger.
Hill saw the 2021 regime change in Norman. And although the 6-foot-6 forward has just one year left after this season, he’s proud to be helping Moser lay the foundation for OU’s future.
“Honestly, it means everything to me,” Hill said. “I want[Moser]to be here as long as possible, 10+ years,[and]for him to be a great Hall of Fame coach. … That’s just one goal of ours, to help him.”
In his four years as the Sooner, Hill said he couldn’t recall an atmosphere quite like what he experienced on Saturday.
But he’s hoping for another big turnout when OU host Oklahoma State on Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the latest installment of the Bedlam rivalry.
“It’s the best thing I’ve seen from the fans since I’ve been here,” Hill said. “It would be great if we could experience that again on Wednesday.”
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This article originally appeared in Oklahoman: The OU basketball win over Alabama is the culture builder for Porter Moser