NORMAN — It took until February, but this season’s first edition of Bedlam basketball was well worth the wait.
Leading off back-to-back matchups between the bitter rivals, the Oklahoma State Cowboys topped the Oklahoma Sooners 94-90 in overtime from the Lloyd Noble Center.
Cade Cunningham lived up to his billing, downing the Sooners with 40 points on 12-of-21 shooting, 11 rebounds and an assist. Twenty of Cunningham's 40 points came in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime, as he completely took over the game to will his Cowboys to victory.
“He was terrific,” Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger said. “I thought our guys made him work for it, and to his credit I thought he made some big time shots, made some tough shots. Good players are capable of doing that, and he did.
“Jalen (Hill) and Elijah (Harkless) were on him most of the time, and I thought they both made him earn everything. Didn’t give him too many easy ones. He just, he answered the challenge and won the overall battle for sure.”
In the final minute of regulation, the much anticipated matchup of OU lockdown defender Harkless and Cowboy star Cunningham took center stage. Harkless would actually strike first on the offensive end, draining a 3-pointer to put the Sooners up 73-72 with 54 seconds left.
Not to be outdone, Cunningham took Harkless on, getting to the rim and laying one in to retake the lead.
“He willed his team to win, and that’s what players like him do,” Sooner sophomore De’Vion Harmon said.
A missed layup by Bryce Williams with 19 seconds left gave Oklahoma the ball back down two points.
For the second straight game, Austin Reaves was entrusted with the ball as the game hung in the balance. Down two points, the senior drove to the basket, this time dishing off to teammate Brady Manek, who laid the ball in to send the game to overtime.
In overtime, Reaves was unable to recreate the magic of regulation.
As OU again trailed by three, the senior drove into the lane but got caught up under the basket and was unable to float his shot over Cunningham. On the way down, he fouled the Cowboy talisman and sent him to the line, where Cunningham put OSU up by five and ice the game.
“You can put that one on me, I wasn’t good,” Reaves said. “I had too many forced shots that led to nothing honestly, and I mean that was basically it.”
Usually great off the dribble, Reaves also struggled a bit driving on Oklahoma State down the stretch.
“They did a good job of staying straight up at the rim and I thought I had some and I didn’t,” he said. “So like I said, I just got to be better.”
With Cunningham feeling it, the Sooners needed to be great in every other area to swing the momentum in their direction. However, they were unable to contend with the Cowboys on the boards.
Oklahoma State dominated OU on the glass, winning the rebounding battle 45-28.
“A couple of three huge rebounds there at critical times that we didn’t get back,” Kruger said. “You’ve got to get five guys down in there and understand the value of getting it back and get it done, and we didn’t on too many occasions today.”
Harmon said the rebounding and Oklahoma’s inability to convert late ultimately cost them the game.
“First part of the game… most possessions we were getting shots that we wanted. It was the defensive side, we weren’t rebounding that well,” he said. “And as the stretch got down, you know, we had some plays where we got to finish those. Especially down the stretch, the game is tight, we just got to finish those plays.”
Neither team was able to truly separate from their opposition all afternoon. The Sooners built a 10-point lead in the first half, but the Cowboys came roaring back out of the break.
A Rondel Walker dunk put the Cowboys up by six with 6:44 left in the game, but just as OSU looked to be flexing their muscles late, the Sooners responded with a 5-0 run of their own to get back within striking distance, and neither side’s lead would extend beyond six points the rest of the way.
Kruger did manage to throw a wrench into everyone’s expectations from the opening tip, starting Jalen Hill over Harkless.
The Cowboys were shooting 8-of-12 from the field before Harkless entered the fray, but went on to shoot 4-of-18 the rest of the half, as the Sooners too a 38-31 advantage into halftime.
Out of the break, with Hill back on the floor for Harkless, the Cowboys offense was thrown a lifeline, jumping out to a 7-3 run to start the second half, and Harkless was called upon for the rest of the contest.
While the game spotlighted the Big 12’s two leading scorers in Oklahoma’s Reaves and OSU’s Cunningham, Harmon laid down his marker to be mentioned with the conference’s elite.
“I thought he was terrific. I thought he did a really good job,” Kruger said of Harmon. “He made shots, he got downhill, defensively he was good.”
Leading the Sooners with 23 points, Harmon started the game shooting 5-of-5, knocking down a pair of triples to help the Sooners keep pace in what was a high scoring affair early. Harmon also added four rebounds and two assists in the losing effort.
“Big time players make big time plays, that’s all I can really say. I was doing that, Cade (Cunningham) was doing that,” Harmon said. “I played a really good game but we didn’t win, and the W is all that matters. They get to go that hour and a half ride back to Stillwater and laugh and joke and we got to see what we got to do to get a win on Monday.”
Reaves didn't trail too far behind Harmon, adding 22 points on 7-of-18 shooting, six rebounds and eight assists.
The two teams will meet again in Stillwater on Monday night with much more than bragging rights on the line. Depending on how results fall elsewhere in the Big 12, Oklahoma could be in danger of dropping all the way to seventh place, and have to play on day one of the conference tournament. A win would keep them in position to earn a day one bye, with their regular season finale against Texas looming.
For the Sooners, Harmon said the 48-hour turnaround between matchups is a great thing.
“Of course we love it,” he said. “We’re gonna be ready. It’s another 40 minutes, maybe 40-plus if it goes into overtime again, 40 minute 40 plus ballgame again.
“We just gotta find a way to win. That’s all that matters.”
Everything gets going from Gallagher-Iba Arena at 8 p.m. on Monday night, and the game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.