On This Date in OU Hoops History: Butler Didn't Do It, but Ebi Ere did

John. E. Hoover

Oklahoma’s 2020 college basketball season came to an unceremonious and premature end when the NCAA declared this year’s tournament would not be played due to measures intended to stop the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Sooners just might have assembled the kind of team — a Big Three scoring triumvirate and a collection of young, athletic talent — that could have possibly made a good postseason run.

This team’s resume will always be incomplete.

Instead of using three weeks this spring to witness OU basketball history, SI Sooners will relive it. From now until April 4 — the date that was supposed to be this year’s Final Four semifinals — we’ll look back on Oklahoma’s most memorable NCAA Tournament games from that date in history.

MARCH 28, 2003

(1) OU 65, (12) Butler 54

Ebi Ere returned with a vengeance.

After taking himself out of the Oklahoma lineup midway through February because of a shooting slump, Ere exploded against Butler with 25 points off the bench as top-seeded OU advanced to the East Regional final in Albany with a 65-54 victory at the Pepsi Center.

“In the locker room, I told the guys that Ebi gave us a lesson good for long after you leave basketball of never giving up on yourself,” said Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson.

Ere had been playing with a broken bone in his wrist — he hadn’t surpassed 20 points in 14 consecutive games — but everything looked fine on this night.

“What helped me out was knowing the other players can step up and play good,” Ere said. “I knew if I could get back on track, we’d be better than we were then.”

OU (27-8), which was coming off a Final Four trip the year before and had won the Big 12 Conference tournament title, seemed poised for another Final Four run before running into Syracuse in the regional final.

No. 12-seed Butler — which was still becoming the Butler we know today — had no answers for Ere either early or late.

He scored 12 points in the first half, and after Butler got within 50-47, Ere scored the Sooners’ next five points on back-to-back drives to the basket.

“I saw it in the first shot he took,” said Big 12 player of the year Hollis Price. “He penetrated and I could tell by how high he jumped. Every time he drove to the basket, he made something good happen for us.“

Price, who had been limited by a groin injury, scored 10 points in the first 10 minutes of the game. He finished with 12, but it was his defense, along with Quannas White, who helped shut down hot-shooting Butler’s perimeter game. The Bulldogs buried 14 3-pointers in a win over Louisville in their previous game, but against the Sooners, they made just 4-of-13. Dead-eye tandem Darnell Archey and Brandon Miller combined for just 3-of-12 shooting overall, 1-of-6 from 3-point range.

“They’re a great 3-point shooting team,” said White, “and we tried to stop them from getting shots.”

Said Sampson, “I thought our defense on the 3-point line and our defense on the dribble was very good.”

OU also dominated on the boards, 39-21. That included 11 rebounds from Jabahri Brown and eight from Kevin Bookout (to go with 16 points) and 19 offensive rebounds overall, which helped OU to 25 second-chance points.

Butler got as close as three in the final minutes, but OU pulled away at the free throw line.

“Ebi played like Ebi,” White said, “and that’s what we need.”

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