SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — It took four years for coach Lon Kruger to rebuild the Oklahoma Sooners into bona fide NCAA Tournament contenders.
The Sooners still have a few steps to take before they can be regarded as Elite Eight worthy.
Oklahoma (24-11) withered under Michigan State’s defensive pressure in the second half of a 62-58 loss in an East Regional semifinal on Friday night. After getting off to a hot start by hitting eight of their first 11 shots, the Sooners went 12 of 44 the rest of the way.
“This group does a good job, making progress as a program,” Kruger said. “They’ve taken some good steps. We’ve got a long way to go. But a good fight tonight.”
Junior guard Buddy Hield led Oklahoma with 21 points. Senior forward TaShawn Thomas scored 16 and added seven rebounds.
Travis Trice led the Spartans with 24 points, while Denzel Valentine scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half.
The third-seeded Sooners were beaten by the seventh-seeded Spartans (26-11), who advance to play Louisville on Sunday.
This was Oklahoma’s third-consecutive tournament appearance in four years under Kruger. And it was the Sooners’ deepest run since the Blake Griffin-led team reached the regional final in 2009.
The Sooners were undone by an unproductive bench, which accounted for just three points — all by Khadeem Lattin.
“They just did it and we didn’t,” said Lattin. “It was another one of those games where we had control. We took control of the game early, and something just got away from us.”
The game turned once Michigan State took its first lead, going up 44-42 on Dawson’s 8-foot turnaround jumper with 9:26 left. The teams traded the lead four times before the Spartans went ahead for good with 6:42 left, when Matt Costello put back his own miss with an emphatic dunk.
After Hield missed a 3-point attempt at the other end, Valentine responded by hitting a pull-up 3-pointer in transition to make it 51-47.
And Michigan State maintained the lead by finally hitting shots from the free-throw line. After missing seven of their first 10, the Spartans were perfect on their final six free throws.
Trice hit two to put Michigan State up 62-58 with 13.2 seconds left. Hield missed a 3-point attempt on what became the Sooners’ final possession in a game that stretched into Saturday morning.
Michigan State: The Spartans improved their NCAA tournament record to 62-27, and moved into seventh place on the victory list — one ahead of Syracuse. … The Spartans were a No. 7 seed when they reached the Elite 8 in 2003.
Oklahoma: Coach Lon Kruger stayed true to form by starting the same five he’s had all season. The Sooners are just one of six teams in the nation to start the same five this year. Kruger did the same last year. … The Sooners bench had combined for 30 points in its last two games.
Michigan State: Faces No. 4 seed Louisville in the East final on Sunday. The Spartans trail the all-time series 5-3, and meet the Cardinals the tournament for the fourth time — and third in seven years.
Oklahoma: Season is over with the Sooners losing just one starter, Thomas, to graduation.
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