BROOKLYN- Everything was perfect for Seton Hall until the game winded down to its final ticks.
Following back-to-back turnovers by Redshirt sophomore guard Sterling Gibbs, the Sooners inched back within a bucket. But what happened next can't be described as anything less than insanity.
Gibbs sank a free throw out of his pair to put the Pirates up by six, but then everything collapsed. The Sooners started a full court press and reaped the rewards. First a turnover by Jaren Sina with 31 seconds left then another loose ball from Brandon Mobley with 23 ticks left and to end the shuffle, he would foul out.
Freshman guard Jordan Woodard stood at the charity strike, panting. He would sink his first attempt and miss his second. Both teams hit the deck hard and a jump ball was called. Possession arrow pointing in favor of the Sooners. Sophomore guard Buddy Hield threw his body into Tom Maayan and found the contact he was looking for.
Hield peered at the net. He stared into the nylon and lifted his arms in unison. Swish. The second shot rang a similar melody. The Sooners would hang on to win, 86-85, in the semifinals of the Coaches v. Cancer Classic at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn in front of a raucous crowd.
Sooners' Sophomore guard Isaiah Cousins made it clear that playing under pressure is what he's made to do.
"It felt good being back home with friends and family in attendance, but I play hard," said Cousins, a native of Mount Vernon, NY, only twenty minutes outside of the city.
"I had to be on top of my game, shot the ball well and played hard. That's what I do. I play hard."
Oklahoma (4-0) was paced by Cousins for most of the night. Cousins scored 19 points on 7-for-8 shooting and had two blocks. Senior guard Cameron Clark added 20 points of his own and grabbed nine boards. Oklahoma's defense was also a big reason they were able to shrink the Pirates' lead in mere seconds.
The Sooners forced the Pirates to shoot 16.7 percent from the perimeter in the second half and forced them to miss 15 shots from the field. Oklahoma also won more dead ball rebounds than the Pirates (4-1) down the stretch. After a while, it just seemed as if the Sooners wanted it more. Pirates Head Coach, Kevin Willard, said he was proud of his team but the loss was "unfortunate."
"You have to give Oklahoma credit," Willard said. "In the last 45 seconds they did a good job and created a couple turnovers. We got a little bit out of wack, and just didnt take of the ball. Overall really proud."
But Willard did find flaws in their game within the last two minutes. Those moments made him cringe as he described them.
"We have to go back and watch the last two minutes," Willard said. "We did some things in the last two minutes that gave them a bit of momentum down the stretch, we had the ball up seven, we took a layup and they came down and got fouled and that kind of let them get the press started, we have to a little better clock management, but again, I'm not going to look at the last two minutes, I'm going to watch the last 38."
"I thought guys played hard, thought guys played really well, we continue to be impressed with this team, when certain guys aren't playing well, other guys are stepping up...it's going to be a tough one to swallow but we have to bounce back tomorrow."
The Pirates were paced by Gibbs who finished with 26 points on 17-for-20 from the free throw line and 4-for-8 from the field. Gibbs also shot 50 percent from the arc. Patrik Auda left the game in the first half in what was mentioned as a foot injury.
- Gene Teague had to switch numbers to 35 after receiving a big blow to his forehead and lip. Wore a large band-win over most of his head for the second half.
- Auda will undergo a CAT scan Saturday morning to determine the extent of his injury. Coach Willard thinks his injury could be similar to last season's. The screw in his food could be bent. He left the game in the first half
- According to the New York Times, Pirates' sophomore guard, Tom Maayan, may leave the basketball program to return to the Israeli military by January 2nd.
- Oklahoma Head Coach Lou Krueger on the W: "Wild finish for sure. Thought we had the upper hand on getting to loose balls. Very happy for the guys who kept their head up, kept working, kept battling and made something good happen late."
- Krueger on playing Michigan State: "Always good to play against a high level of competition."