NORMAN — Buddy Hield called it a must-win game, and of course, it wasn't. College basketball isn't a must-win sport until the middle of March.
But this was a get-to-sleep-at-night game. This was a keep-feeling-good-about-yourself game.
Pleasant dreams, Sooners.
Hield and Isaiah Cousins kept knocking down 3-pointers, and Ryan Spangler kept getting offensive rebounds, and OU made most of the plays late to beat ninth-ranked Iowa State 87-82 Saturday at Lloyd Noble Center.
The verdict didn't so much keep the Sooners in the Big 12 basketball race — no one really expects OU to contend for the title — as much as it showed that Lonnie Kruger's team has spunk.
The Cyclones came in unbeaten and proved why. OU had an eight-point lead with 2 1/2 minutes left in the first half, but it was 39-39 at halftime. The Sooners had a 13-point lead with 12 1/2 minutes left in the game, yet Iowa State took a 77-76 lead with 2:39 to go.
“We needed this one,” Hield said. “A must win for us. We just had to find a way to win the game at the end, and we did that.”
OU was coming off a tough home loss to Kansas on Wednesday night. A second home loss in the week would have been a blow to a Sooner squad that's much better than anyone foresaw.
“Huge win,” Kruger said. “Terribly important. When you drop the first of a two-game stand, puts a little more importance on the second one.”
The Cyclones are for real. They've got a stable of versatile, skilled, disciplined players. Iowa State, now 14-1, is definitely a Big 12 title contender.
But Kruger said that not just winning, but how the Sooners won, is what pleases him.
“The win was certainly important, but that feeling of getting some stops at critical times is important for this group,” Kruger said.
“Isaiah and Jordan (Woodard) started covering a little more aggressively. That really helped change our tone defensively. Get a stop or two, you know what it feels like. And you want to do it again.”
After ISU took that 77-76 lead, the Cyclones didn't score again until 13.5 seconds left, by which time the Sooners had carved a 10-point lead. Five straight stops allowed OU to build a cushion.
The Sooners' defense this season has been shoddy. Desperation can cause many things. Maybe it caused the Sooners to buckle down.
“It was a game I'm sure they were talking about they had to win, and give them credit,” said Cyclone coach Fred Hoiberg. “They did that.”
Hield and Cousins were excellent. Hield scored 22 points, one shy of his career high. Cousins scored 17, his second-highest total as a Sooner. Hield made six of 12 3-pointers, Cousins three of six.
Iowa State entered the game leading the Big 12 with 9.1 3-pointers per game. In three OU-ISU games last season, the Cyclones outscored the Sooners 87-36 from beyond the arc.
Saturday, that advantage shifted to OU 39-18.
After Iowa State took a 41-39 lead on its first possession of the second half, OU heated up. On their next 11 possessions, the Sooners scored 22 points. Hield went 3-of-3 on 3-pointers and Cousins 2-of-2.
“They shot the heck out of the ball today,” Hoiberg said. “There's no doubt about it.”
And when the 3-pointers dried up midway through the second half, Spangler took over. He had eight rebounds, six of them offensive, in a 4 1/2-minutes stretch, leading to eight second-chance points for OU.
Meanwhile, the Cyclones' normally prolific shooting went cold. Iowa State ended up making just six of 26 3-pointers, but the 'Clones compensated by attacking the basket. Iowa State made 28 of 39 shots from inside the 3-point line.
Nothing worked for ISU in those final 2 1/2 minutes, leaving Kruger pleased with the victory and proud of the progress.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.