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.
“Obviously we’re disappointed that we haven’t won in the conference tournament or here,” Kruger said. “This group’s done a heck of a job. They have made a lot of progress, and we’ve got to keep getting better, keep making progress as a program and as a group and they will do that.”
Hield was one of the Sooners’ best shooters all season. But he was just 1 of 9 against the Bison and 7 of 24 over the last two games.
“I’ve got a bitter taste in my mouth,” Hield said, looking straight to the floor. “This one’s going to hurt for a little while. I didn’t feel good shooting the ball all night. I had good looks. I had looks that I usually make. The last couple of games I wasn’t feeling myself shooting the ball.”
Those looks included the final possession of regulation.
Cousins drove, trying to get to the rim. He beat his defender, but the Bison collapsed with two more.
Cousins kicked it out to Hield in the corner, but the shot bounced free. Woodard then missed a 14-footer and Cousins’ desperation put-back attempt failed as time expired to force overtime.
Cam Clark, one of two OU seniors, scored 22 of his team-high 25 points after halftime. Cousins had one of his best all-around games this season, scoring 17 points with eight rebounds and three steals. Freshman Jordan Woodard scored 13, his most since Feb. 5.
But Woodard and Cousins each missed the second of two free throws in the final minute to give North Dakota State a chance.
Cousins’ miss with 26 seconds left could’ve put the Sooners up four. Instead, the Bison grabbed the defensive rebound and called timeout to set up Alexander’s 3-pointer.
North Dakota State (26-6) will play the winner of Thursday’s late game between San Diego State and New Mexico on Saturday.