Neither was available and after a bit of confusion, the ball found forward Ryan Spangler under the basket with space to operate.
Spangler’s right-handed lay-up clanged off the rim twice before it fell off the front edge, sending Oklahoma home from Kansas City with a 67-65 loss, just one day after its first postseason win in four years.
“It still hurts,” Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield said. “We wanted a championship. We came here to get a championship. We came up short. We had to find a way to win this game.”
As Spangler sat in the locker room, he covered his head with a white towel. He sat slumped over, nothing visible but the bottom of his legs.
His teammates sat around him in almost complete silence, knowing that Oklahoma had plenty of other missed plays along the 40-minute game. At that moment, none of them mattered.
The Sooners’ heart was just a little bit broken.
“He’s the heart and soul for this club. His emotion, his blue-collar work ethic, he’s our identity in that regard,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “. . . He’s a gritty competitor, and no one feels worse about it than he does. But again, he’s been at the heart of everything we have done.”
The No. 3 Sooners, who will await their NCAA Tournament fate to be decided Sunday, erased an eight-point deficit in the final 12 minutes and played tight with Iowa State (24-8), which won its fifth-straight Big 12 Tournament game, into the final four minutes.
Isaiah Cousins knocked down a huge 3-pointer from the top of the key with 4:18 to play after Iowa State took a five-point lead.
Iowa State forward Jameel McKay, the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year, blocked a pair of Oklahoma shots on the next two possessions and slammed home a put back dunk – one of only seven offensive rebounds for the Cyclones.
“When you know each other a little bit after a Big 12 season, it gets to be a little bit of a grind,” Kruger said. “But I thought the guys really fought and battled.”
Spangler and TaShawn Thomas both scored inside to keep the Sooners alive before Georges Niang missed one of two free throws with nine seconds to play to set up Oklahoma’s final play, when all Kruger wanted was to push the ball and get Woodard into the lane.
Stopped by Niang and a flying Monte Morris, Woodard had no option but to pivot and look for a teammate. Cousins came open on the wing for a chance to win the game, but Woodard found a slashing Spangler, who had cut around McKay – left stranded at the free-throw line.
Likely feeling rushed as the final seconds ticked away, Spangler went up quickly in the lane, where he found himself all alone.
“We got the look we wanted,” said Hield, who was searching after the game for the right words to say to inconsolable Spangler – unwilling to talk to anyone in the moments after the loss. “We didn’t execute it.”
For the third time in three games against Iowa State, the early bird didn’t catch the worm. Whichever team took a double-digit, first-half lead in each of the three games wound up losing.
This time, it was the Sooners.
Oklahoma (22-10) held Iowa State without a field goal for three minutes in the first half during an 11-0 run and led by 11 points with 11 minutes to go in the first half.
In the final seconds, that lead had disappeared after another game between the two teams filled with heart-wrenching swings.
“I love my team, no matter what – win, lose or draw,” said Hield, who scored a game-high 16 points despite missing 14 shots. I love my team. This one really hurts. We had a chance to take it to overtime and tie it up. We just have to learn from it and find ways to execute down the stretch.” Cousins had 14 points. Thomas and Woodard each finished with 13. But there’s no more consistent player on Oklahoma’s roster than Spangler, who’s lunch-pail mentality has defined the Sooners knew defensive-persona.
Hield said he was searching for a way to pick his teammate back up after a crushing miss. Not all of the Sooners are looking to help Spangler directly. Woodard will rely on the Sooners’ most hard-nosed player to do it himself.
“He’s going to pick himself back up,” Woodard said. “He’s been through this. It’s basketball. You aren’t just going to be up all the time. You’re going to have to go through downs. We’ve all been through downs this season. It’s going to fuel him in the tournament. I know that. I don’t have any worries about Ryan.”