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March 22, 2014

Sooners look to future after bowing out

SPOKANE, Wash. — For every Cinderella story born in the NCAA tournament, there’s another side. There are the teams left stunned because a season has abruptly ended.

Oklahoma was that team Thursday night at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena after the 80-75 overtime loss to North Dakota State.

Like many favorites that lose in the NCAA tournament, it was an ending the Sooners did not see coming.

“We’ve gotta play harder, man. Fight, guard people and just get after it, man,” OU guard Buddy Hield said. “We have to find a way to win in the postseason.”

The Sooners (23-10) now have seven months to ponder what caused this shift in the postseason from a squad that was focused and energetic at the start of games to the one that was neither Thursday in the NCAA tournament or last week in the Big 12 tournament.

Thursday night’s loss can be pinned on several plays in the final 40 seconds of regulation. OU had a four-point lead, but it dwindled because Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard both missed free throws that could’ve kept the advantage at two possessions. Buddy Hield, who was an uncharacteristic 1 for 9 from 3-point range, missed an open 3-pointer from the corner — his typical spot — with less than five seconds left in regulation. Woodard and Cousins both missed follows.

But the foundation to OU’s postseason collapses was erected much earlier.

The Sooners gave up a 9-0 run late in the first half that gave the Bison a 37-29 halftime lead. The momentum the Bison built from that 3-minute spurt never really went away.

The deficit was bigger in the 78-73 loss to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinal. The ramification was identical.

“It’s disappointing,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “You always want to end the season on a positive note — this group especially. The three weeks prior to Baylor this group was probably playing clearly their best basketball of the year. Baylor outplayed (us) for sure. Tonight was tough.”

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