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.