INDIANAPOLIS — The Oklahoma Sooners punched their ticket to the second round of the NCAA Tournament with their thrilling 72-68 victory over the Missouri Tigers.
Suffering a setback upon their arrival to the tournament bubble, sophomore guard De’Vion Harmon was placed into quarantine for the opening weekend after he tested positive for COVID-19. While it took a committee to replace Harmon on the court, the Sooners were sure to include him in the celebrations as soon as they hit the locker room, allowing him to enjoy the victory via FaceTime.
OU head coach Lon Kruger emphasized the importance of including Harmon in the locker room atmosphere immediately after the victory.
“There's nothing better in sports than a spontaneous locker room celebration. You can't practice them, you can't express how they feel, the look of satisfaction on the players' faces and they had De'Vion on FaceTime while that was going on and like he had the biggest smile. So again, just always glad that the players can experience as many of those as possible.”
Kruger said he was very pleased with the contributions he got all down the bench in Harmon’s absence.
“Well, at times in the year we have had, been a little inconsistent scoring the ball, and of you course De'Vion's a guy that's a threat to score out there. So just picking up some points, picking up some production, Jalen Hill, Victor, Alondes all came off the bench and gave us some big minutes, big production.”
Despite the quarantine, senior leader and First Team All-Big 12 selection Austin Reaves said he was still able to keep in touch with his teammate this week, who hopes to be able to rejoin the Sooners if they can pull the upset over the top seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs.
The Sooners get to keep dancing for at least two more days after last season’s tournament was shut down due to the pandemic. After the game, Reaves was able to reflect on how much it meant to him to once again have the opportunity to take the court in the big dance.
“When the year was cancelled last year everybody had a sick taste in their mouth. This is a tournament that you grow up watching, you grow up wanting to play in, and for us not to be able to do that, it just, it stung, honestly. But to be back here this year, hungry, just ready to compete and like you said it was a close game the whole game, I think we got up eight or so a couple times and then they would make a run right back. For us to stay together and fight through those close games like that is really big for us.”
Not only were the Sooners able to raise their game on the defensive end of the floor, they limited Missouri’s opportunities by surrendering just six turnovers. Being able to take care of the basketball is the key to any tournament game, Kruger said.
“Yeah, very good. Very good. You get a NCAA game and you get six turnovers, I think we, in the second half especially, we valued those possessions a little bit better. We had better possessions. Again, we drove and finished or drove and kicked and then guys stepped up and made shots. So, yeah, I thought much better in the second half.”
Facing the last undefeated team in the country, Oklahoma will need another monster performance out of Reaves yet again. His ability to contort his body in the air and finish off circus shots through contact while still getting to the line was on full display Saturday night against the Tigers.
“It's March. Crazy things are going to happen. Like you said, they made big shots down the stretch, a couple step-backs, a couple just pull-ups and stuff like that, to cut it to a close game like that. But really just being resilient and refusing to lose, honestly. You lose now, you go home, you think about all the things you could have done, should have done, and stuff like that. But now we get to stick around and play another game on Monday.”
The Sooners have about a day and a half to game plan for potential top five pick in the upcoming NBA Draft Jalen Suggs and his Bulldogs, as they will take the court against Gonzaga on Monday afternoon at 1:40 p.m. central time inside Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.