Sooners survive slugfest with Spartans

Oklahoma forward Johnnie Gilbert hangs from the basket after a dunk in Oklahoma's 60-58 win over Michigan State Saturday night in the All College Classic at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City. Ebi Ere scored 21 points en route to taking home the Classic's MVP honor.

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A crowd of 18,034, the largest to ever witness a basketball game in the history of Oklahoma, saw two heavyweights duke it out for 15 rounds on Saturday night, but when the final bell tolled it was the crimson and cream prevailing over the men of Sparta by a final score of 60-58.

"We really haven't had a big win over a good team yet, and this was a win we had to have,'' said Ebi Ere, who was named MVP of the All-College Classic.

It was a slobber-knocking, teeth-chattering, nail-biter all the way down to the final horn, but the Oklahoma defense made a key steal as time ran down to ensure the victory. Defensive stands were a theme throughout the night for both teams.

"You're not going to come out here and look pretty against Michigan State," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said. "Michigan State is just a hard team to score against."

The only Sooners to reach double figures on the night were Ebi Ere and Hollis Price. They tallied 21 and 19 points respectively. The other members of the Oklahoma squad made their presence felt on the defensive side of the ball. None shined brighter than Jabahri Brown.

The St. Thomas native was all over the new Ford Center hardwood. Aside from his four points, Brown chimed in for five blocks, seven rebounds and two steals. It was this kind of a performance, one that wreaks havoc for the opposing offense, that Sampson foresaw when Brown transferred to Oklahoma during the 2001 season.

Johnnie Gilbert came up with timely dunks to liven up a crowd that was busy being nervous, and a quick glance at the box score shows that they had every right to be. In reality, this game could have easily ended up as a Sooner loss. More turnovers than assists; out-rebounded by the deeper Spartans, both should have pointed to an Oklahoma loss, but Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told the media for the reason of the Spartan demise.

"We probably gave up 12 or 13 points because of missed free throws and turnovers," Izzo said. "That's hard to overcome on the road against a good team."

On a sad note, the painful education for Kevin Bookout against solid interior teams continues. His defense is improving, but his lack of production continues to alarm. A line of two points, zero rebounds and three personal fouls in 26 minutes of action is not going to get it done when the Big 12 schedule gets underway. Bookout even did his best Fred Brown circa '82 Title Game impersonation tonight as he made a steal on a MSU fast break and them promptly threw the ball right back to Chris Hill who drove the lane and converted a three-point play. It was as quick a momentum switch as I've ever seen, and it could have cost Oklahoma the game. Bookout will learn; that I am sure of.

Chris Hill and Maurice Ager combined to lead Michigan State in scoring with 12 points a piece. Freshman Paul Davis led all rebounders with nine.

Oklahoma will celebrate this victory for all of 27 minutes because the UConn Huskies howl into Norman on Tuesday. The Sooners will need a little bit more offense to take care of the Calhoun's Gang, but a part of me is thinking that Kevin Bookout might have a coming out party against all-world center Emeka Okafor. It should be a good one.

BMart's Player of the Game
A defensive battle deserves a defensive player, therefore Jabahri Brown gets the nod. He finished with four points, seven rebounds, five blocks and two steals.

BMart's Play of the Game
Quannas White's steal with two seconds left ended a game that was in doubt for much of the night.

BMart's Heartfelt Plea I
Would somebody please get Ebi Ere a pair of shoes that don't slip all over the floor. If I see one slip against UConn on Tuesday I'm going to call Al Davis and see if he has any "Stick ‘Em" left over from his 1980 Super Bowl Champion Oakland Raiders.

BMart's Heartfelt Plea II
Would somebody find the man that designed the chairs at the Ford Center for me please? I'd like to put him before a firing squad full of itchy trigger fingers. I swear, my ribs feel like they've been introduced to the hooves of an agitated mule. That was the most uncomfortable seat I've ever had the misfortune of sitting in.

OU-MSU Box Score: SoonerSports.com


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