The Sooners weren’t expected to hang with the Spartans. OU fell 87-76 but had the margin down to four points under four minutes in the game on two separate occasions.
Friday night, though, won’t be about moral victories when the teams match up in the Sweet 16 in the East region Friday night in Syracuse, N.Y.
“We had one night really to go over that film,” junior guard Buddy Hield said. “This game really means something us now. We don’t want to lose this game. We feel like we can beat them, and I know they feel like they can beat us.”
“It always comes down to who’s winning the battles and who’s getting tough and executing plays and don’t turn the ball over.”
This time around it’s OU who enters as the higher-seeded team. The Sooners, the No. 3 seed, are actually the highest seed remaining in the East region.
The identity of OU is drastically different from last year. This year’s club more motivated by defense and never evidenced more than down the stretch of the win against Dayton on Sunday.
Michigan State has stayed who it is. And under Tom Izzo, that’s not a bad thing. Why mess with something that’s not broken?
“It helps to have played someone, to be a little bit more familiar with their style,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “We talked about being physical and aggressive on the boards. Our guys have not just watched it on tape. They’ve seen it, felt it. They have a better perspective that way.”
Hield said he doesn’t remember too much about the game last year because he had a migraine headache. And obviously the Sooners didn’t have TaShawn Thomas in that contest as Thomas was at the University of Houston. Jordan Woodard was only in his fifth game in college, not the seasoned veteran he is now.
So there are things that are different. After playing two smaller teams in Albany and Dayton, it’s back to the grind and the wear-and-tear for Ryan Spangler against the Spartans.
“A lot of their players are back that we played last year, and we’re all back,” Spangler said. “They’re tough and physical. They ran a lot of good offense, but there’s some stuff that we can take away and try to limit them.”
The winner takes on the winner of the North Carolina State-Louisville game in the Elite Eight on Sunday afternoon.