Cyclones rally to knock OU from Big 12 Tournament
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Thursday, March 14, 2013
3/14/13 at 3:46 PM
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – If the Oklahoma Sooners get a lousy NCAA Tournament seed, or travel to Dayton for a First Four play-in game, or even get left off the 68-team bracket altogether, they can blame it on 7½ minutes of basketball.
They can blame it on the last stretch of Thursday's Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal against Iowa State, when a 12-point lead became a 73-66 loss.
The fourth-seeded Sooners needed to win to lock up an NCAA berth. That looked like a good bet most of the day. Romero Osby was unmanageable. Cameron Clark was having his best game of the year. And 5-seed Iowa State wasn't making the 3-pointers they rely on to win.
When Clark made two free throws with 7:42 remaining, OU led 60-48.
"We knew we had our backs against the wall," Cyclones forward Melvin Ejim said, "and we just started playing harder than they did."
Harder and better.
"They hit tough shots," OU guard Steven Pledger said. "A spinning one-handed shot off the glass. A step-back fadeaway three from the corner. Those are tough shots, and they started to hit them."
They hit some easy ones, too. The Cyclones manhandled OU's defense and scored on 10 of their last 12 possessions. They were 3-of-20 from 3, until Georges Niang hit one from the right wing with 7:22 left.
That moment signaled two important things: ISU was about to get hot, and OU coach Lon Kruger was about to rue a couple decisions.
The Cyclones followed Niang's 3 with four three throws, then Will Clyburn drove Osby for one basket and hit a 3 over him for another. The trey concluded a 12-0 run with 4:10 to play, and pulled ISU into a 60-60 tie.
The few thousand Cyclone fans got louder with every second of the run. OU was clearly rattled, yet Kruger elected not to call time to settle his team and quiet the crow.
"Yeah, you can always look back and say liked to have made this shot or liked to have had a timeout here, liked to have run something differently," Kruger said. "No question, that's always going through your mind."
Removing Osby from the game as Clark hit those free throws to make it 60-48 was even more costly.
Replacement Andrew Fitzgerald gave up a 3-pointer and an offensive rebound and committed an offensive foul as Iowa State scored a quick seven points.
"We tried to (rest) him a couple or three possessions there," Kruger said of Osby. "We had a couple of plays there when 'Ro' was out that we would have liked to have done differently."
Kruger got Osby back in after a two-minute breather, but the Cyclones had momentum by then. Also, OU's offense had bogged down by then.
The Sooners missed all eight of their shots over the final 7:42. Osby, who finished with 18 points, went 0-for-2. Clark, who tied a season high with 17, didn't attempt one down that stretch.
At the other end, Clyburn converted a three-point-play after OU gave up an offensive rebound with 3:19 left. That gave the Cyclones their first lead, 63-62.
Sixth man Tyrus McGee buried a 3 near his bench at the 2:44 mark to shove ISU ahead 66-63. Ejim, who scored a game-high 23, hit a spinning, leaning banker on Pledger to make it 68-64 with 1:18 showing.
Then, after a pair of Sam Grooms free throws cut it to two, Chris Babb hit a straightaway 3 to make it 71-66 with 36 seconds to play.
The 22-10 Cyclones had the victory they felt they needed to avoid NCAA Tournament limbo.
The 20-11 Sooners boarded the bus to spend three nervous days at home.
OU's Je'lon Hornbeak steals the ball from Iowa State's Will Clyburn at the Big 12 Men's Basketball Tournament in Kansas City, Mo. on Thursday. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World