Oklahoma had just taken the lead for the first time in almost 30 minutes thanks to a pair of 3-pointers by Cousins, who continued to shoot despite missing his first eight shots of the game. It’s hard to shake that Mt. Vernon confidence. Cousins picked Niang clean and pushed the ball into the open floor in as the minutes ticked away Saturday night.
Cousins is the Sooners’ confidence and its swagger. He let loose and alley-oop pass towards the rim as forward Ryan Spangler, who was playing with a left knee injury that left him limping every time down the court. Spangler – the unquestioned heart of Oklahoma – kissed the ball of the glass to extend Oklahoma’s lead to four points.
An energetic crowd behind him, Oklahoma’s star finally took over.
Buddy Hield hit a big lay-in and then knocked down two free throws after a clutch jumper by Jordan Woodard as No. 3 Oklahoma rallied back from down 11 points in the first half for its biggest victory of the season – an 87-83 win against No. 11 Iowa State in the Big 12 Conference opener.
“You’re never worried about what Isaiah is gonna do because he’s always in the gym,” Woodard said. “That’s where he breathes. He breathes basketball. If he’s struggling, we talk to him as a team. We let him know what he needs to hear, but he already knows what to do.”
After no points and no assists but one turnover in the first half, Cousins scored 15 points and handed out four assists in the second. He didn’t turn the ball over after halftime, either. Spangler went out in the second half when his knee collided with an Iowa State Cyclone but came back in and finished with a season-high 20 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
“Ryan did what he's got to do,” Hield said as Woodard sat next to him giving an approving smile and nod. “. . . He did what he does (Saturday). He made some big shots for us and he battled all our bigs (Saturday). You need a guy like Ryan to go take you far. He's the type of players that make us be great on the court. He makes plays for us.”
No. 3 Oklahoma (12-0) won for the fourth straight time against Iowa State at Lloyd Noble Center and matched the best start since the 1987-88 season.
But the team that ranked first in the nation in 3-point percentage hardly looked like itself in the first half, when Oklahoma knocked down just 18.8 percent.
Somehow, even with Iowa State (11-2) shooting 56.3 percent after being ahead by four points to start the second half, Oklahoma chipped away at the lead until Cousins hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 5:27 to play.
He hit another pull-up 3 from the top of the key, and Oklahoma had confidence for the final five minutes. Spangler’s lay-up showed late-game heart that Oklahoma didn’t have last year.
Woodard’s pull-up jumper as the shot clock horn sounded put Oklahoma up, but the Sooners’ still needed a big miss from Monte Morris, who had an open look from behind the 3-point arc to give Iowa State the lead with 5.8 seconds to go.
It clanged off the back iron, and Hield finished of a victory that will likely set the Sooners up against Kansas on Big Monday in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup for the first time this season.
“The difference was gonna be making a few shots and getting a few stops,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “That’s all on the players — all of them. Buddy carried us much of the night. Isaiah stepped up in the second half and made big plays. Jordan stepped up and made that big shot to put us up four late. Ryan was on one leg most of the second half and does a big job.
“. . . Guys hung in there until we got a little spark.”