Oklahoma had heard all week from college basketball experts that it was a prime upset candidate in its NCAA Tournament opening game against Summit Conference champion North Dakota State. The Sooners proved many of the pundits and bracketologists right, losing in overtime 80-75 Thursday night in the West Regional in a game that the Sooners had in their grasp with less than a minute to go in regulation.
It wasn’t all that simple, though. The No. 5-seed Sooners trailed the 12th-seeded Bison by eight points at halftime, 37-29, as North Dakota State closed out the first half on an 11-0 run. Oklahoma slowly chipped away at the North Dakota State lead in the second half, and actually took its first lead since late in the first half, at 62-61, with 90 seconds left in regulation.
The Sooners widened their lead to four points with 39 seconds remaining, and it appeared that they were going to be able to avoid the upset despite a second straight game in which they had shot well below their season average. But the Bison’s Lawrence Alexander made a clutch three-point shot with 12 seconds left, and OU was unable to score in the final seconds of regulation despite having three attempts at the basket.
North Dakota State tallied four quick points in the extra session and never trailed thereafter, despite having to play much of the overtime without two of its best players in Braun and 6-7 forward Tray Von Wright, both of whom fouled out.
Alexander was the hero of the game for North Dakota State. The 6-7 junior guard finished with a game-high 28 points, which was a big pickup for the Bison, whose leading scorer on the season, senior Taylor Braun, was held to 11 points.
Senior forward Cameron Clark closed out his college career scoring a team-high 25 points for the Sooners, 18 of them at crunch time down the stretch in OU’s second-half comeback. Sophomore Isaiah Cousins added 16 points and freshman point guard Jordan Woodard had 13.
North Dakota State shot 53 percent for the game, right at their season average. The Sooners, however, seemed to settle for a disproportionate number of three-point shots, firing up 30 threes for the game (they shot 33 in their last game, a losing effort against Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament). Oklahoma fired up 21 more shots than the Bison (72 to 51), but the Sooners’ shooting percentage was just 35 percent for the game.
For the second straight year, Oklahoma has fallen in its opening tournament game. The Sooners were the second No. 5 seed to lose to a 12 seed in Thursday’s second-round games. OU ends its season with a 23-10 record, a three-game improvement on the previous year.
North Dakota State moves on the face the winner of Thursday’s late game between No. 4-seed San Diego State and 13-seed New Mexico State.