Sooners Prove Too Strong For Albany
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Oklahoma had no choice but to give Albany its full attention on Friday, after seeing fellow Big 12 mates and No. 3 seeds Iowa State and Baylor suffer huge upsets the day before.
The Sooners would not suffer the same fate in Columbus Friday night, as Oklahoma did just enough to take care of business against the Great Danes and advance with a 69-60 win.
The win was the Sooners' first in the big dance since 2009, and the first under Lon Kruger in three attempts. The win also made Kruger the only coach in history to win an NCAA tournament game at five schools.
Oklahoma was never pushed to the brink by Albany, as the Sooners never trailed and led by as many as 12 on multiple occasions in the second half. But the Sooners also never really came close to landing a knockout punch on the America East conference champions.
A quick 9-3 start, courtesy of OU big men TaShawn and Thomas and Ryan Spangler, gave the Sooners an early cushion, one that managed to stand up the entire game. The Sooners got important contributions from everyone, including 13 big points from a bench unit that has been lacking in productivity all season.
Thomas led the Sooners with 18 points, consistently bullying the Great Danes inside in his first NCAA tournament game. Buddy Hield was still a bit off from the field (6-of-16, 3-of-11 from 3-point range), but still affected the game in a litany of ways. He finished with 15 points.
Oklahoma hasn't played what most would be considered a “great” game in quite some time, probably since the Sooners' 94-83 win over Iowa State in Norman back on Feb. 9. Even the Sooners' win over Kansas two weeks ago was marred with stretches of poor play. That the Sooners continue to win is a testament to Oklahoma's talent and quality as a team.
But the Sooners have to put it together more if they want to keep moving forward in this tournament. Friday showed glimpses of that happening.
D.J. Bennett came off the bench and scored two huge buckets in the first half to stymie an Albany run and keep the Sooners comfortably ahead. The last time Bennett scored more than four points was back in December, and the last time he played at least 10 minutes was Feb. 14 at Kansas State.
Frank Booker had two big 3-pointers, the second to push the OU lead to 12 points for the first time with 11:20 remaining in the game. Isaiah Cousins only had six points on 2-of-8 shooting, but his 3-pointer with 3:08 left to keep the OU lead at nine points was the biggest shot of the game. Jordan Woodard delivered at the free throw line, keeping it a three-possession game with less than 40 seconds remaining.
Throughout the whole game, Thomas, Hield and Ryan Spangler kept the Sooners moving forward, no matter how slow the progress appeared.
The timely contributions that define a great team were there, but for Oklahoma to truly be great, the contributions of Booker and Bennett, Cousins and Woodard must not only be timely, but consistent.
It doesn't matter how you win in March; it just matters that you win. So while the Sooners weren't dominant against Albany, they'll still be playing on Sunday against either Dayton or Providence. Over 300 teams won't be playing by that point, no matter how impressive they looked during the regular season. Just ask Iowa State.
The Sooners took note of their brethren's shortcomings from Thursday to take care of business on Friday. The rest of the Sooners' journey will be determined by how they play and won't have the benefit of lessons from others.