Kristian Doolittle and the Oklahoma Sooners tooled up for the start of their Big 12 season with a rugged non-conference win in a match-up of Power Five schools on Friday night.
Doolittle scored three straight key baskets late in overtime, and Oklahoma defeated Northwestern 76-69 for its seventh straight win.
Doolittle, who finished with a team-leading 14 points, connected on layups 50 seconds apart, then added a close-in jumper with 19 seconds left in overtime to make it 74-69. Miles Reynolds sealed it with layup with three seconds remaining.
Sooners coach Lon Kruger thought it was a perfect way to get ready for a conference schedule that opens on Jan. 2 at No. 1 Kansas.
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“They’ve had a lot of good games, good opponents, and they’ve learned from each game, different styles, which prepares us well going into conference games,” Kruger said. “As tough as this was tonight, we’ve got 18 more of those with conference play.
“It’s a fun challenge ahead.”
Oklahoma scored the final 10 points in overtime after Northwestern’s Vic Law opened the extra period by hitting a 3-pointer.
“Doolittle coming off the bench and giving them a lift, those were three big-time moves he made and we weren’t able to answer,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “It’s disappointing. It hurts. We’ve had three of these (kind of losses).”
Christian James had 12 points and nine rebounds and Rashard Odomes added 13 points — all in the first half — to help the Sooners (11-1) prevail.
Law led Northwestern with 23 points and eight rebounds. Dererk Pardon had 15 points and seven rebounds, while Ryan Taylor had 14 points as Northwestern (8-4) fell short in its biggest challenge before resuming Big Ten play next month.
“It’s clear as day we’re a very good team,” Law said. “We’re playing these teams and there’s something at the end.
“I think we should be winning these games. I don’t think there’s any reason we shouldn’t be 11-1, but we’re 8-4.”
The Wildcats lost their two first Big Ten games, dropping 2-point decisions at Indiana and to No. 5 Michigan earlier this month.
Oklahoma’s only loss is to another Big Ten opponent. Wisconsin beat the Sooners 78-58 at Norman, Oklahoma on Nov. 22.
In this one, Northwestern was hindered by sour free-throw shooting, connecting on only 34.8 percent of its shots (8 for 23) from the line.
Neither team could sustain great shooting from the floor in a tightly played contest. Oklahoma shot 42.7 percent and Northwestern shot 42.4 percent.
With the score tied at 66, both teams missed chances in the final minute to win it.
As he tried to drive for a layup, Oklahoma’s Aaron Calixte was stripped by Pardon. Northwestern came back down for a winning shot, but Taylor’s 3-point attempt from the left side with 4.2 seconds caromed off the rim.
The game was tied 32-all after a rugged first half defined by two big swings.
Oklahoma came out shooting cold, and Northwestern pulled ahead 19-8 by 9:06 using balanced scoring for a 13-2 run.
Then it was the Sooners’ turn. Oklahoma went on an 18-6 roll behind Odomes, who led all scorers with 13 points in the first half.
The Sooners took their first lead, 26-25, when Doolittle hit a jumper from inside the paint. Then the two teams tussled until the break.
Oklahoma pulled out to a 48-42 lead 6:17 into the second half. Northwestern came back with an 11-2 run capped by Taylor’s 3-pointer from the top of the key with 8:19 left that put the Wildcats ahead 53-50.
That set up a tight back-and-forth tussle down the stretch. Pardon’s put-back dunk with 1:17 to go tied it at 66.
Oklahoma won the only previous meeting between the two programs last year in Norman, 104-78.
Oklahoma: The Sooners entered the week one spot outside of the AP Top 25, and strengthened their resume with wins over Creighton and Northwestern. Oklahoma also has wins over Florida, Notre Dame, Wichita State and USC.
Northwestern: The Wildcats had their hands full with a top Big Five opponent after rolling past DePaul and Chicago State, a pair of local non-conference opponents, in their previous two games.
HOMECOMING: Reynolds, an Oklahoma graduate, grew up on Chicago’s South Side and played first collegiate game in the area. He finished with 11 points.
QUOATABLE COACH: Collins on Taylor missing his 3-pointer in the final seconds: “If you would have told me before the game that Ryan Taylor was going to have a bare-(asterisk)(asterisk)s open 3 at the last second to win the game, I would have signed the contract right there.”
Oklahoma closed out its non-conference schedule. The Sooners are off until they begin Big 12 play on Jan. 2 at No. 1 Kansas.
Northwestern has one more non-conference game, against Columbia on Dec. 30, before resuming its Big Ten schedule at Michigan State on Jan. 2.