NEW YORK — Over 19,000 fans crammed their way into Madison Square Garden Saturday night, the majority expecting to see seventh-ranked Duke give upstart Oklahoma a lesson in basketball 101.
The undefeated Blue Devils entered the annual Dreyfus Classic outscoring its opponents by almost 30 points a game so far in 2004-05, and odds-makers established Duke a 10-point favorite in the first meeting between the two rivals since 1993.
None of that seemed to matter to the Sooners who put together a first-half performance built on smothering defense and timely scoring. Oklahoma's juco duo of Taj Gray and Terrell Everett combined for 22 points to help stake Kelvin Sampson's enthusiast crew to a 39-29 halftime lead.
And while the second 20 minutes belonged to the Blue Devils, the Sooners walked out of the Garden knowing they had just gone toe-to-toe with one of college hoops giants, and never blinked.
OK, Oklahoma blinked, but it was a positive performance that will go a long way toward the team's maturation process. It's a 78-67 loss that may even fall into the positive category for the Sooners, at least according to Everett.
Sooners Illustrated editor Jay C. Upchurch caught up with the 6-foot-4 junior after the game to get his initial thoughts:
SI: What are your impressions of the way Oklahoma played tonight?
Everett: First of all, I think we played real tough defensively, especially in the first half. We just didn't keep it at that same level the whole game, unfortunately.
SI: What was the biggest difference in the first and second half, in your mind?
Everett: Duke became the better team in the second half. The crowd was a big factor and that really played in their favor. We weren't able to maintain the momentum we had earlier.
SI: Even though you didn't get the win, what kind of benefits does this team come away with tonight?
Everett: I believe this lets us know we can play with anybody. The way we played the first half and part if the second, I think we got a little swagger going. We showed how we can play against a great team and we found out some things we need to work on in order to make that happen for an entire game.
SI: What were the things you guys did in the first half that you weren't able to sustain after the intermission?
Everett: We got the ball inside early and we were really making the open shots when we created them. Plus, we came out with lots of positive energy and that worked in our favor.
SI: Was the atmosphere here at the Garden intimidating at all?
Everett: Not really. It was different, but we came out and just tried to play our game, do the things we do best. The crowd was great. It was great to see so many OU fans.
SI: What did you learn?
Everett: We've had a chance to win both games we've lost this season. We are still coming together as a team and that's part of it — learning to win close games and put two halves together, especially against good teams. Keeping our composure the entire 40 minutes is critical.
SI: What are the missing ingredients right now?
Everett: I don't know that there are any missing ingredients, but we've still got some growing to do. I like our chemistry and we've got all the parts — but Coach Sampson says we're still a work in progress. It's going to take some time.
SI: So you feel this OU team can compete with teams like Duke on a regular basis?
Everett: I definitely think so.
SI: Was this a positive experience?
Everett: It's hard to say a loss is positive, but I definitely would say this is a positive. Just looking at it for the experience as a team and how we responded. I think it helps prepare us for the Big 12 Conference and let's us know what level we can play at if we put it all together. We'll take some confidence away from this night.
Everett says OU found swagger despite loss
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