SPOKANE, Wash. — The guys in green raced off the court and into the locker room where they danced and sang, compared whose shot was most likely to end up featured on “One Shining Moment,” and checked Twitter to see who was giving them a shoutout.
North Dakota State pulled off yet another 12 seed stunner and enjoyed every moment of it.
“I just want to keep coaching this team,” NDSU coach Saul Phillips said. “I don’t want to have to say goodbye to this locker room.”
Lawrence Alexander’s 3-pointer with 11 seconds left forced overtime and Carlin Dupree came off the bench to score four unlikely points in the final 75 seconds of the extra session, and the Bison knocked off No. 5 seed Oklahoma 80-75 Thursday night.
NDSU (26-6) picked up its first NCAA tournament win by rallying in the final minute and outlasting the Sooners in overtime. Alexander finished with a career-high 28 points, but it’ll be his falling-down, fist-pumping celebration after the tying 3-pointer that will be replayed in Fargo for years.
But that was just the first act. Dupree came on in the closing seconds of overtime after Taylor Braun fouled out, hit two free throws and scored on a difficult baseline leaner with 41 seconds left that put the Bison up by four and ignited the celebration.
Phillips ran over to the fans in green and yellow, threw his arms in the air and screamed at the top of his lungs. No one could hear the excitable North Dakota State coach with all the noise.
The Bison quickly realized they grabbed the nation’s attention.
“You guys figure out how big it is,” Phillips said. “I know it’s very gratifying and I know that for guys like Lawrence and Carlin and everybody on this team, couldn’t have happened to a more fitting group of guys, because they have done what it takes to be exactly where we are right now, year-round.”
While players were monitoring Twitter to see who had been watching, the school’s own athletic department account probably had the best line.
“We’ll gladly be your Cinderella, America.”
Except this Cinderella doesn’t fit the traditional mold. These Bison are proven. They won at Notre Dame in the regular season. This is part of a progressive rise under Phillips since the Bison made their first tourney trip in 2009.
They have a swagger not typically seen from smaller programs, because the Bison don’t see themselves that way.
Take Alexander. After releasing possibly the biggest shot of his career — the tying 3 that forced overtime — he hollered “buckets,” so confident the shot would rattle through the net.
“That’s a lot of confidence there big fella,” Phillips said.
Cameron Clark led Oklahoma (23-10) with 25 points, including 16 in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime. Isaiah Cousins added 17 points and Jordan Woodward had 13, making up for leading scorer Buddy Hield being limited to nine points on 4 of 14 shooting.
“They fought, kind of out hustled us on rebounds and things like that, but overall they’re a great team,” Clark said.
Whenever the Bison needed a big shot, Alexander answered. With Braun bottled up by the Sooners defense, it fell to Alexander to pick up the scoring load. The most he scored all season was 20 points and his career-high came in 2011 as a freshman.
No basket was bigger than the 3 that forced overtime. Braun drove into the lane and was cut off. Alexander was his only option. After briefly struggling to get the handle, he rattled in his fourth 3-pointer of the game.
Oklahoma gave NDSU a chance at tying by twice missing foul shots in the final minute.
Oklahoma had chances to win in regulation getting off three shots. Hield’s open 3 rimmed off, Woodward’s free-throw line jumper was short and Cousins’ reverse layup attempt at the buzzer never caught the rim.
NDSU scored the first four points of overtime on baskets by Bjorklund and Alexander, but Clark’s 3 pulled Oklahoma even at 70.
Braun put the Bison ahead with 1:39 left 72-70 on a driving layup. After he fell to the court, Braun got tangled with Clark, who appeared to inadvertently kick Braun in the face. No additional fouls were called, but Braun fouled out seconds later reaching in as Clark attempted to shoot.
Clark hit both, but four seconds later Dupree — a 58 percent free throw shooter — hit a pair to put the Bison back in front. Following an Oklahoma miss, Dupree drove baseline and scored instead of running off time. It was the shot of an inexperienced freshman, but Phillips didn’t mind.
”It was just a great experience for me,” Dupree said.