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Oklahoma victimized by premature celebration

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

Steven Pledger's buzzer-beating three-point attempt was still in mid-flight Monday night when the Oklahoma guard dropped to one knee and confidently pumped his fist as if he'd just sent the Sooners' matchup with Missouri into overtime.

Had Pledger sank the shot, his unusual bravado would have added to the moment. Instead the ball clanged harmlessly off the front rim, sealing Missouri's 71-68 victory and exposing Pledger to some ribbing for his premature celebration.

"It was on line," Pledger lamented to the Oklahoman after the game. "It felt good when it left my hand. It just didn't go in."

It was even more painful that Pledger's shot didn't fall for Oklahoma because of what it took for the Sooners to set up that opportunity. Romero Osby intentionally missed his second free throw with 3.9 seconds left in the game, Andrew Fitzgerald tipped the rebound back toward the three-point arc and Pledger caught it on the right wing already squared to the basket.

That the shot didn't drop was welcome news for a Missouri team thrilled to escape with a victory in a classic trap game.

When Missouri toppled Baylor in Waco last month, the Tigers followed that up with their worst performance of the season in a loss to struggling Oklahoma State. Missouri coach Frank Haith was so wary of another letdown following his team's landmark win over rival Kansas two nights earlier that he required the team to stay in a hotel outside Columbia that night rather than participate in the on-campus celebration.

That decision probably was unpopular in the Missouri locker room, but Monday night's hard-fought, closely contested victory certainly justified it.

A loss would have dropped the Tigers behind Kansas and Baylor in the Big 12 title race. A win instead gives them a half-game cushion on both their rivals with a rematch against the Bears looming Saturday.

(Thanks, Deadspin)

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