It's always difficult to beat a team three times in a season, and the first half of Thursday's third edition of Bedlam was proving that point.
But the better team wins the majority of the time in college basketball, and that point was proven in the second half, as Oklahoma rallied from being down at halftime to eliminate Oklahoma State from the Big 12 tournament, 64-49.
With the win, the Sooners advanced to the Big 12 semifinals, where they will take on Iowa State at 8:30 p.m. The Cowboys will head back to Stillwater, where they will sit on pins and needles until their name is called on Selection Sunday. OSU should be in the NCAA tournament, thanks to a plethora of good wins, but the Cowboys' late swoon, combined with any bid-stealing in other conference tournaments could make things dicey.
Ultimately, the difference in the game was the balance of the Sooners was too much for Oklahoma State's Le'Bryan Nash to overcome. Nash put on a show, scoring 27 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, but he got zero help from his teammates, especially in the second half. In the final 20 minutes, Nash scored 15 of the Cowboys' 23 points.
Jeff Newberry added 10 points, but the rest of the OSU starters combined to shoot just 4-of-20 and score 10 points. Phil Forte was particularly ineffective, constantly harassed by OU's bigger guards. He was just 1-of-10 from the field and 0-of-7 from 3-point range. In three games against OU, Forte was just 8-of-28 from the field and hit just one 3-pointer.
Meanwhile, the Sooners displayed balance and poise, not panicking when the Cowboys went up by nine early in the second half. Big 12 Player of the Year Buddy Hield shook off a poor first half to score 22 points, 16 of those coming in the final 20 minutes. TaShawn Thomas had 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins had 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Even though Ryan Spangler scored just four points, he grabbed a season-high 15 rebounds, an invaluable contribution in a game where both teams shot 35 percent.
It was not a game that will be talked about for years to come, but for the Sooners, it was a postseason win, their first in Lon Kruger's four years in Norman. In March, a win is a win, no matter how it comes.
The Sooners threw the first punch on Thursday, grabbing a 10-4 lead at the 11:30 mark of the first half. Oklahoma went over seven minutes between field goals, as the Cowboys tied the score at 13. Oklahoma State's defensive pressure was very good, keeping the Sooners off-balance and out of sync on the offensive end. Oklahoma shot just 23.3 percent in the first half as the Cowboys ended the half on a 7-0 run, capped by a Newberry 3-pointer with 1:05 to go.
OSU went into the locker room with a 26-21 lead and came back out with the same ferocity and pushed the lead to nine on two occasions in the half's opening moments. But the Big 12 Player of the Year wasn't going to allow the Sooners to go one-and-done for a fourth straight year in the Big 12 tournament.
Down 32-23, the Sooners went on a 16-3 run, with Hield scoring 10 of those, including seven straight at one point. The result was a 39-35 lead; a lead the Sooners wouldn't surrender the rest of the night.
From that point on the Cowboys' offense became Nash and nothing else. Newberry hit a 3-pointer with 16:17 to play, but no one besides Nash scored until Forte hit a free throw with 5:11 to play. Before that single point, the Sooners had established a 52-45 lead and taken command of the game, mixing in paint touches for Thomas with drives to the bucket and open looks on the perimeter. They weren't all falling, but you got the sense it was a matter of time before the game got away from the Cowboys.
After Forte's free throw, the Sooners put the game away for good with another 9-0 run, with the dagger provided by Cousins on a 3-pointer with 3:05 to go.
The mood will be tense in Stillwater this weekend, but based on how other bubble teams have fared so far this week, the Cowboys shouldn't be too pessimistic. Meanwhile, the Sooners will continue their quest for their first conference tournament title since 2003. Oklahoma can't expect to beat Iowa State playing like it did against the Cowboys, but with the monkey of a postseason win off the Sooners' back, here's betting they'll play loose and confident.