SPOKANE, Wash. — After all the troubles Oklahoma had been through during Thursday’s NCAA Tournament opener, things seemed to fall into place in the final minutes.
Then it all fell apart.
Two of the Sooners’ best free-throw shooters missed in the last 40 seconds, Lawrence Alexander tied it with a 3-pointer with less than 12 seconds left in regulation and the Sooners got Buddy Hield an open look from outside with less than five seconds to play.
That shot and two follows from other Sooners were off the mark, and the 12th-seeded Bison controlled overtime with the help of some unlikely contributors as North Dakota State shocked the fifth-seeded Sooners 80-75 at Veterans Memorial Arena.
“I’m pretty sure anybody thought we would’ve won that game,” OU’s Je’lon Hornbeak said. “We split two free throws, Alexander hit a tough shot to force overtime, then we had three good looks at the rim and it didn’t fall.
“They took advantage of every mistake toward the end of the game, and they won.”
It was an uphill battle for Oklahoma from the start.
North Dakota State’s Taylor Braun and Marshall Bjorklund, the Bison’s two best scorers, didn’t hurt OU much. But North Dakota State was patient. It took advantage of OU’s defensive breakdowns by moving the ball from the inside out, and then locked down on defense for long stretches to win their first NCAA Tournament game.
“I feel like we had a lack of focus on the rotations,” Sooners guard Isaiah Cousins said. “We weren’t being solid on defense. We made too many rookie mistakes — not jumping at the ball late in the clock. We played pretty good for the first 30 seconds of the possession, but we didn’t finish out in the last five.
“We had breakdowns that hurt us tremendously.”
The Sooners finished the season 23-10, but they fell to 0-5 in the postseason in Lon Kruger’s three years as head coach.