It ended with a loss, but the Oklahoma Sooners’ showing in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic this weekend was far from negative.
The Sooners split a pair of games against Seton Hall and No. 1 Michigan State, defeating the former and losing to the latter. Both games were exciting, being decided within the final minutes. Cameron Clark put on a Broadway show under the Brooklyn lights, scoring a combined 52 points—32 of which came on Saturday versus the Spartans—on 20-for-31 shooting. Clark also added 16 rebounds between the two games. He dazzled with his athleticism and proclivity for coming up with big plays when the Sooners needed them. He was selected to the All-Tournament team for his performance, and if one were to award a MVP award for the Sooners, he would be the unequivocal choice. He carried the Sooners over the weekend.
Just behind Clark on the Sooner hierarchy was Isaiah Cousins, a New York native. Cousins scored 19 points—a career high—on 7-for-8 shooting in his homecoming against the Pirates, and could have scored more had foul trouble not confined him to the bench; the sophomore guard played only 21 minutes. Against Michigan State, Cousins’ presence was also felt. He scored 15 points—nine of which came at the foul line—and grabbed five boards, while also swiping two steals in the loss.
A myriad of Sooners had great individual performances in the tournament, but Clark and Cousins stuck out like gems.
In both games, scoring came in spurts for the Sooners. In their first game on Friday, an 86-85 victory of Seton Hall, Oklahoma started out red hot. The Sooners jumped out to a 27-18 lead in the early first half, but found themselves up only three at halftime, 44-41. To open the second half, the Pirates outscored the Sooners 15-4, to gain an eight point advantage. Soon, the lead mushroomed into a 63-52 advantage. Then, Oklahoma slowly began to mount its comeback, chipping away little by little. The lead oscillated, but the Sooners never were able to retake an advantage. With under a minute to go, the Sooners found themselves down six. Unfazed, Oklahoma rallied to score seven points in the final 32 seconds, to win the game.
In much the same fashion, the matchup Saturday versus Michigan State was defined by runs. Oklahoma connected on ten of its first twelve attempts, to grab a surprising 22-11 lead. However, the Spartans outscored the Sooners 34-9 the remainder of the first half, to take a commanding 45-31 lead into halftime. The lead grew to as much as 18 in the second. Later, with Gary Harris on the bench with cramps, the Sooners went on an 18-4 run to cut the deficit to four with 12:16 to go. The teams battled back and forth for much of the rest of the game, until Michigan State pulled away to win, 87-76.
Both games were also defined by their exciting finishes.
The Seton Hall was the more exciting of the two because of the improbable fashion in which the Sooners won the game. Oklahoma channeled Sooner magic of the past to turn a six-point deficit into a one-point win in a matter of seconds.
The run began with 31.5 seconds remaining, when Clark grabbed on offensive rebound and scored to make it 85-81 in favor of the Pirates. Clark then proceeded to steal the ball and score again, with 28 seconds remaining, cutting the lead to two. Moments after, freshman Jordan Woodard swiped a steal and was fouled with 21.5 seconds to go. The first free throw went swish, but the second went clank, and the battle for the rebound ended in a jumpball, with possession going to the Sooners. Oklahoma now had a chance to win the game. Clark put up a shot that missed, but Woodard came up with an offensive board, and passed to Buddy Hield, who was fouled with 9.3 seconds remaining. Hield calmly sank both free throws to give the Sooners the win.
Versus Michigan State, the final nine minutes or so of the game were widely defined by free throws. 30 free throws were attempted between the two teams from 9:08 to the end of the game. With 3:53 to go, Cousins nailed three freebies to give the make the score 73-69, Michigan State. From that point on, it was the Keith Appling show. The Michigan State guard scored nine of the Spartans final 14 points to lead a 14-7 run to end the game.
One thing that sticks out about both of these games is the Sooners’ resolve. With their backs against the wall, Oklahoma continued to push forward. They could have easily given up against Seton Hall after the Pirates went up by 11 in the second half or when they were down with such little time left on the clock, but they kept fighting. They ended up being rewarded with a victory for their relentless efforts.
Against the Spartans, Oklahoma’s determination was even more evident. For most teams, the fashion in which the Spartans ended the first half, coupled with the way they started the second, would have been demoralizing. For the Sooners, it was motivation. They battled back to make it a game against the number one team in the country. The way in which the Sooners competed should make fans in Norman proud. The fact that they did it against the number one team in the country should give them hope that this team will be a force this season.
All in all, there is much to be encouraged about following the Sooners’ showing in Brooklyn. Not only did the Sooners show their willingness to compete, but their ability to do so. The individual performances of Cameron Clark and Isaiah Cousins should have fans drooling, and Woodard, Hield, Ryan Spangler and a collection of other players shined in their own rights. If this weekend is a harbinger of things to come, the season ahead looks promising.
Next up, Oklahoma (4-1) will take on Arkansas Little Rock (1-3) at the Lloyd Noble Center on November 29. Tip-off is set for 2 PM CST.
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