SPOKANE, Wash. — It was hard to tell if Oklahoma was blessed or cursed in the final seconds of regulation Thursday night. With 38 seconds to play, it was up by four. A survive-and-advance NCAA tournament victory over North Dakota State seemed probable despite the inability to get defensive stops or make critical shots.
However, the final seconds of regulation and five minutes of overtime provided a conclusive answer. The Sooners were cursed to an 80-75 loss to the Bison and an abrupt exit from the NCAA tournament west region.
“Tough one to lose,” OU coach Lon Kruger stoically said after a gut-wrenching game.
The Sooners (23-10) were another victim of the No. 5 seed hex, joining Cincinnati, which was in the east region but fell to Harvard earlier in the day at the same venue, as teams executed by No. 12 seeds on Thursday.
OU’s demise was shocking in that respect only, not in how it played out on the court.
North Dakota State (26-6) shot 52.9 percent (27 for 51) from the field. Point guard Lawrence Alexander, who entered the game averaging 10.8 points a contest, scored a career-high 28 points on 10-for-15 shooting.
The apathy toward defense has been an on-again, off-again issue for the Sooners. Their intensity for it grew in the latter half of the regular season, but was absent Thursday night.
“They fought, kind of outhustled us on rebounds and things like that,” OU forward Cameron Clark said of North Dakota State.
The Sooners almost survived despite the struggles. They led by four with 38 seconds left. However, both Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins both missed free throws in the final seconds that could’ve kept the Sooners’ lead at two possessions.
The misses made Alexander’s line-drive 23-footer with 11 seconds remaining enough to erase a three-point deficit.
OU had three shots to claim a win in regulation, but a 3-pointer by Buddy Hield, a jumper from just inside the free-throw line by Woodard and contested layup by Isaiah Cousins as the buzzer sounded all bounced off the rim.