Sooners have the answers late in NCAA win

Oklahoma was able to counter every Albany run for nine-point victory

COLUMBUS, Ohio – As a shooter, Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins is well aware that he is going to have a handful of misses – sometimes two handfuls.

That never affects him because he knows he has to keep shooting. The misses give him confidence because ultimately a shot has to fall at some point.

Despite hitting just one shot through the first 36 minutes against No. 14 Albany on Saturday, Cousins stepped up to the 3-point arc with the shot clock ticking down. The Great Danes had just pulled within six points, the narrowest lead in more than 10 minutes.

Needing an answer, Cousins provided it.

“I just shot the ball with confidence,” Cousins said. “I knew it was going to go in. I was just being aggressive and shooting the ball. Some of them weren’t falling, so I knew that one was going to fall in.”

No. 3 Oklahoma (23-10) had all the answers late.

Cousins’ 3-pointer came on the possession after Albany’s Evan Singletary hit a big 3-pointer in the corner.

“Isaiah can make shots without a lot of rhythm,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “He’s done that all year. He doesn’t mind the moment.”

When Singletary hit another to pull Albany back within six points, Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler pulled down an offense rebound to milk another 30 seconds off the clock.

Jordan Woodard and Spangler went 4-for-4 from the line in the final 40 seconds.

“They kept making runs, and we just kept answering back,” said forward TaShawn Thomas, who had a late put back and blocked two shots in the final five minutes. “It was just going back and forth. I think we held our composure.”

Prior to the NCAA Tournament, the Sooners had won four of its final six games decided by less than 10 points – losing twice to Iowa State.

The resilience showed Friday night as Oklahoma advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.

“We kept answering to widen it back out to nine or 10, whether that be jumpers or at the free-throw line,” Kruger said. I thought our guys did a pretty good job playing it out, not panicking and getting to the free-throw line when we needed to and then making shots.”

BOOKER, BENNETT AND THE BENCH: After scoring just two points in the Big 12 Tournament, the Sooners finally found some production from its bench.

D.J. Bennett made an immediate impact on both ends of the court, posting four points and hitting two shots for the first time since Jan. 19.

Frank Booker continued his strong late-season surge, scoring eight points and hitting 3-pointer with just less than 12 minutes to play during a individual 5-0 run.

“We haven’t had a lot of point production off the bench,” Kruger said. “. . . The bench was huge. I thought guys stepped in there, and I thought D.J. in the first half especially when Ryan was in foul trouble, getting down a couple buckets, picked everyone up.”

Bennett’s eight minutes in the first half was his most action in more than a month, but his play was inspired. Backing down a defender, Bennett spun baseline and converted his best offensive play of the season.

“We’re going to need him at some point,” Spangler said. “We’re going to get in foul trouble. I got in foul trouble early. He came in, made a good move and got going early.”

BUDDY BREAKS THE BOX-AND-1: Hield had never seen a box-and-1 in his career, but Albany tried to use it early in the first half to slow down the high-scoring guard.

Oklahoma State and Texas Tech had face-guarded Hield during the season, hoping to deny him the ball, but he had never seen the modified zone.

He made quick work of it.

Less than eight minutes into the ball game, Hield slipped past his man and into the opening in the middle of the court, slamming home a big dunk.

“They don’t want me to get going,” Hield said. “I expect that, too. That dunk got me going. I hit a 3 after that. You like to score in rhythm.”

Oklahoma scored on six of its first eight possessions with Albany focused on stopping Hield. The Sooners also had four offensive rebounds in the first eight minutes.

“If teams keep doing that, next game I’ll feel sorry for them because my teammates will be more confident, and we’ll knock down some shots,” Hield said.

.more-stories {margin:20px 0;} .more-stories a{display:block;width:100%; background:#efb900;height: 52px;text-align:center;line-height:44px;color:#202020; text-decoration:none;text-transform:uppercase;font-family:bebas_neue;font-size:20px;position:relative;overflow:hidden;letter-spacing:2px;-webkit-transition:all .15s ease-in;transition:all .2s ease-in;border:3px solid #efb900;}.more-stories a:hover{color:#fff;background:0 0;letter-spacing:3px;background:#121212;border:3px solid #121212;} @media (max-width: 600px) { .more-stories a {height:auto !important;line-height:1.4em;padding:10px;} }

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories