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Dean's Blog: Getting Down In Dayton

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -

It ended 72-66. OU beat Dayton and is on to the Sweet Sixteen. But what an odd game in a way.

OU didn't score a point at one stretch for six minutes and thirty five seconds. Dayton didn't scratch for nine minutes and four seconds. Didn't make a shot for 10 minutes and 36 seconds. Yet both teams went through long stretches where they made three-pointers look like a lay-up drill.

For the game, OU was 9-of-18 from three-point land. Dayton even better, 11-of-21; both 50 percent or better, yet both endured a prolonged scorched-Earth policy on offense.

Eight of OU's 12 first half field goals were from distance. But as is sometimes the case, an inordinate amount of early success from deep does not bode well later.

That point best seen where OU's four inside players that saw action in the first half combined to put up a paltry four shots, making two. Buddy Hield alone attempted more first half threes (1-of-5) than big men Thomas, Spangler, Lattin and Bennett put up near the bucket. Never ever a good thing. Unless Perk's your center.

In fact, the Sooners were stunningly good early, then stunningly inept late in the first half when Dayton went zone to stop the long distance barrage. Flyer skip Archie Miller instigated a zone at the 7:23 mark with OU leading 29-20. Then OU went all Larry, Moe and Curly. Lon Kruger teams seldom respond to a defensive switch as if they were asked to sing the National Anthem backwards. In Russian. But they did last night.

OU was outstanding when it moved the ball and got great looks netting six of its first seven 3-point hoists. And the Sooners excelled later with their superior defensive execution, fueled by a ratcheted-up intensity, during the game's defining stretch of those 10 minutes and 36 seconds, when the home team failed to make a shot.

The much talked-about homecourt advantage for Dayton never materialized. Or didn't materialize enough for the Flyers to flatten the Sooners when they had the chance. Main reason is these NCAA Tournament officials are pros. They don't play the game of pleasing the home crowd. The only time I felt the homecourt type atmosphere was a factor was when Dayton started hitting threes – 10-of-14 at one stretch, and four straight to begin the second half — which led to OU falling into a 49-40 hole seven minutes into the second half. OU hit threes too, but it just seemed the basket got unusually large for the Flyers when the decibel level soared.

That's when on-again-off-again 3-point gunner/reserve Frank Booker, of all the unlikely characters, drained the game's biggest basket. Booker's lean-back 25-footer to finish a possession that looked about as pretty and coordinated as an overweight, one-legged elephant.

Ironically the game's biggest three was OU's only three in the second half. You do what'cha gotta do. Lon Kruger wisely instructed his lads to attack the glass, get to the line, and get the ball to the big guy. TaShawn Thomas was the best by far of the big men in trunks for the second straight game in Columbus.

The second most important play of the game was Buddy Hield's out-of-nowhere block of an apparent lay-up by Darrell Davis that would've cut the OU lead to two with one minute remaining. But Buddy Skywalker swatted the round leather back into play where Jordan Woodard was fouled, proceeded to make two free throws pushing the lead to six and effectively sealing the deal.

If OU had lost they could've pointed to an 80-second stretch early in the second half when they missed four lay-ups or put-backs – Spangler and Hield two apiece. A fifth blown bunny was soon to come. Gotta clean that up before the real defenders in green and white attack in Syracuse.

But hand it to Hield. Although he again struggled shooting (4-of-13, 1-of-6 threes) and was once again passive and unsuccessful on early forays to the bucket, he sucked it up in crunch time. When needed most, the jovial junior from the laid-back Bahamas repeatedly finished strong 1-on-1 moves at the rim, or was fouled making mano y mano plays, heretofore unseen. It's the single greatest flaw in his game, that admittedly doesn't have many, but enough room for improvement to become a bona fide, difference-making stud. If Hield can replicate his second half fearlessness, OU's chances in Syracuse and his chances of being a first-round draft pick increase significantly.

All in all the win is the high-water mark for Lon Kruger in his four years in Norman. Trailing by nine down the stretch, in a hostile environment, rallying with signature toughness on offense and intensity and execution on defense.

So it's no rest for the weary. On to Syracuse and the stage gets brighter. Beating a lower-seeded Michigan State will be a bear. Tom Izzo teams always peak in March. This is not your typical 3 versus 7 matchup and the point spread will prove it. But OU will be happy to go in the highest-remaining seed in the East. It's a good reward for a group of players who truly personify the definition of team, both on and off the court.

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