, Muskogee, OK


March 15, 2013

Sooners’ postseason status cloudy after loss

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Oklahoma’s trip to the Big 12 tournament was like everything else it has gone through in the last three weeks — fleeting.

The fourth-seeded Sooners lost to fifth-seeded Iowa State, 76-66, Thursday afternoon at Sprint Center and will now spend three anxious days hoping their NCAA Tournament résumé was good enough through the first 29 games.

OU, which dropped to 20-11 after Thursday’s loss, added a second straight head-scratching performance for the NCAA Tournament selection committee to ponder. It’s still dealing with the fallout from jaw-dropping losses to TCU in the regular-season finale last Saturday and Feb. 27 at Texas.

Losing to the Cyclones (22-11) in what was widely considered a toss-up game was no vice. Losing despite holding a 12-point lead with less than eight minutes to play was the foible.

“Our moments are pretty glaring when you consider Texas and then at TCU and today in the conference tournament,” OU coach Lon Kruger said, referring to the stunning losses to Texas and TCU and Iowa State, “liked to have been able to play better than we did in the last seven minutes.”

The last seven minutes amplify doubts about the Sooners’ NCAA tourney chances.

Prior to then, it was a game OU completely controlled. Romero Osby scored 18 points and pulled down nine rebounds while Cameron Clark added 17 off the bench. When those two were the focal points, the Sooners rolled.

However, that changed in the last seven minutes.

Clark hit a pair of free throws with 7:42 left to put the Sooners up 60-48. Kruger thought that would be a good time to get Osby a quick breather.

Whether lifting Osby for a 2 1/2-minute rest cost the Sooners a victory is debatable, but there’s no doubt OU cooled while Iowa State ignited.

“It coincided with taking Ro out,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “I think we were up, what, 7 maybe when we took Ro out, and a minute and a half later it’s an even ballgame.

“So we tried to get him a couple or three possessions there, and they made the run at that time ... We had a couple of plays there when Ro was out that we would have liked to have done differently. But I would like to be able to play him 40 minutes for sure. He’s had such good results for us.”

Melvin Ejim scored six of his game-high 23 points in the final seven minutes and Will Clyburn scored eight of his 17 during a 12-0 run that allowed Iowa State tie the game with 3:19 left.

The Sooners never recovered on either end of the floor. Iowa State (22-10) was just 7-for-26 from 3-point range, but made four of its last six and closed the game. It all equaled a 25-6 Cyclone run over the 7 1/2 minutes.

“We knew we had our backs against the wall, and we just started playing harder than they did,” Ejim said. “In the first half, they played harder than we did, and we knew that. We came out and  we really had this talk in there, and we said we needed to come out and play hard and get the rebounds and be tough inside and not give them easy buckets.”

OU shot 38.1 percent (24 for 63), but whiffed its last eight attempts from the field. The final eight points OU scored came from the free-throw line.

Clark made four of those free throws, but didn’t get an open look at the basket during that span. Osby only attempted two shots in the final 11 minutes and went to the free-throw line once.

“I think they tried to take (Osby) out of the game as much as they could, and you gotta credit them for — gotta find ways to get him the ball,” OU point guard Sam Grooms said. “He needs to have it. He’s our leader and we’ve got to find a way to keep him going, keep him into it. But as far as what they did, gotta commend them. They did it well.”

The Sooners did for a while, too. But it was another loss — their third in the last five games — that came down to a 10-minute-or-less period where OU struggled and lost because of it.

“We played a lot of good minutes of basketball today,” Kruger said. “And were very active, very aggressive. Got the loose balls early. The last eight, nine minutes they got them. They got loose balls and converted some of those to buckets, second-shot opportunities. And that’s the difference in the ballgame.”

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