Syracuse, N.Y. – Starting the season with a team that hadn’t even won a conference tournament game, Oklahoma coach Lon Kruget set out to reach the lofty expectations set out before the Sooners.
Despite having never won a Big 12 or NCAA Tournament game, many expected Oklahoma to break through to the Sweet 16 at the very least.
That’s exactly where Oklahoma wound up, and Sooners coach Lon Kruger couldn’t have been happier with was his team – filled with just two rotation seniors – accomplished this year.
“As a coach, that’s the best part of it, when you get guys that love to be in the gym and love to work,” Kruger said. “ . . It’s a good group, and we’re going to get better. That’s the good thing. This group – TaShawn and D.J. as seniors – obviously raised the bar for the program and raised the bar for the group.
“We’ll be better next year because of it.”
Oklahoma (24-11) immediately turns its attention to next season, because that’s really the only place to turn it.
As far as the end of this season, the Sooners weren’t melancholy in the locker room. Some sat in silence, mourning of the ending season. Most knew that it was a season of success after reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time in seven years.
“We have a lot of pride,” Spangler said. “All of our athletics in OU, we have a lot of pride in. All of us want to be good. We were glad to give this to our university.”
The Foul Game
Down at the end of the game, teams don’t usually have that many options.
Oddly enough, Oklahoma had a chance to put Michigan State’s worst foul shooter on the line in the final minutes.
The Spartans had shot just 3-for-10 from the free-throw line before the final 90 seconds, and the Sooners had a guy in mind to send to the line.
“We were trying to foul Dawson,” Spangler said of Oklahoma’s plan to foul Michigan State forward Branden Dawson, who shot 51 percent from the free-throw line this season. “I don’t know if the ref wasn’t looking or not, but he didn’t call it. We had to foul their best free-throw shooter.”
Instead, the shot clock wound down, and Michigan State (26-11), which will play No. 4 Louisville in the Sweet 16, got the ball in the hands of Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice . The two went 6-for-6 in the final minute to ice that 62-58 victory.
“We didn’t want to do that,” Kruger said. “We had to try and foul a lesser free-throw shooter. We would have like to have done that.”
Shooting to the wide side
Sooners’ guard Buddy Hield insisted just before Oklahoma’s matchup with Michigan State in the Sweet 16 that the depth perception in the Carrier Dome wasn’t going to be an issue.
After the game, he again doubled down on the fact that good shooters still have to make shots no matter the case.
“I didn’t have any trouble adjusting,” Hield said. “I just missed shots. It was fun paying inside here. Didn’t worry about depth perception. You just have to come and make plays in gyms like this.”
Hield is half right.
Oklahoma air balled three shots in the first half, and Michigan State missed everything on one in the second half. All four shots came when the shooter was facing the open end of the Carrier Dome – the court is set up in one of the end zones of the football field.
Most of the other shots looking that direction fell badly by the wayside as well – either bouncing straight down off the front rim or glancing off the back.
Spartans big rebound edge
It might have seemed like Michigan State owned the glass against Oklahoma on Friday.
Again, half right.
The Sooners actually outrebounded Michigan State by two and had just one fewer offensive board than the Spartans – pretty much a wash on any scorecard. When Michigan State pulled down its rebounds was another story altogether.
“We didn’t get defensive rebounds when we needed to at key moments in the first half and the second half,” Spangler said. “Usually when you give up an offensive rebound, they hit a really big shot after that.”
In the final 200 seconds, Michigan State outrebounded Oklahoma, 4-2. The Sooners didn’t have a defensive rebound in the final 3:42 while Michigan State had a pair of offensive rebounds with less than 30 seconds to play and the game still within two points.
“They were very good at going to the offensive boards,” Kruger said. “They got some critical missed shots back there late.”