On Saturday night, the 8-seeded Oklahoma Sooners overcame a depleted lineup to defeat the 9-seeded Missouri Tigers, 72-68 in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. With the win, OU advances to the Round of 32 for the second straight Big Dance.
Without the services of sophomore guard De’Vion Harmon (COVID protocol), Lon Kruger’s team showed the level of intestinal fortitude that once vaulted it to a top-ten ranking earlier this season. Stepping up in Harmon’s place were seniors Austin Reaves (10-12 FT) and Brady Manek (5-9 three-point FG), who led the charge offensively with 23 and 19 points, respectively.
Additionally, junior guard Elijah Harkless dropped his first double-double as a Sooner with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Beyond his handsome stat-line, his late game foul to prevent Mizzou from potentially tying the game was as clutch as any made field goal thus far in the tournament.
In the first half, Missouri built an early seven-point advantage, but Oklahoma quickly responded with an 8-0 run to take a small lead. From there, the two former Big 12 rivals battled back and forth in what appeared to be a bogged down, defensive struggle. Going into the break, the Tigers led the Sooners, 27-26.
For as much defense and poor shot execution that took place in the first half, the second delivered quite the opposite. From OU’s perspective, a little ‘Billy Ball’ was a welcomed sight. Both in the first five minutes and in the final two minutes, Kruger’s crew built a three-possession lead, but Missouri wasn’t going to go down without a fight. As the Tigers seized momentum and the ball down three with less than 10 seconds remaining, Harkless fouled senior guard Drew Buggs to effectively thwart any realistic chance Mizzou had at taking the game to overtime. Finally, a pair of clutch free throws made by sophomore forward Jalen Hill officially put the game to bed, sending the Sooners to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Up next, Oklahoma likely has a date with the No. 1 overall seeded-Gonzaga Bulldogs on Monday. Tip-off time and TV details are TBD.
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