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Oklahoma blitzes Ole Miss in NCAA Tournament

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Nine days off, a few good practices and shootarounds, and suddenly Oklahoma looks like a new team.

The ninth-seeded Sooners used a balanced attack, with four players scoring at least 18 points, to crush Ole Miss 95-72 on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

It was a start more often seen by Oklahoma’s high-octane football team. The Sooners (20-13) scored on eight of their first nine possessions — the only miss was an alley-oop — and led 12-0 less than three minutes in.

Oklahoma didn’t let up. The Sooners led by 17 at halftime and their 95 points were the most this season. They scored 44 of their points in the paint.

Brady Manek had 18 points, and Oklahoma outscored Ole Miss by 33 points when the 6-foot-9 senior was on the floor. He shot 7-of-9 and made two 3-pointers.

“The ball felt good today,” said Christian James, who along with Rashard Odomes led Oklahoma with 20 points each.

The Rebels (20-13) were picked to finish last in the Southeastern Conference after head coach Kermit Davis took over a team that went 12-20 in Andy Kennedy’s final season.

A run to the NCAA Tournament — only Ole Miss’ third in the last 17 years — is a surprisingly good season, even if it did end in a 23-point loss.

“I know, when we take a step back probably a few weeks from now and look at what we did this season, we had a great body of work,” said Ole Miss guard Breein Tyree, who finished with 10 points. “We all got better as people and as basketball players on and off the court this year. So there’s a lot of positives, but you’re never happy or satisfied with losing like that.”

The Sooners weren’t expected to be in the tournament after losing one-and-done phenom Trae Young, now playing for the Atlanta Hawks. They lost five in a row in the middle of the season, went 4-8 in their final 12 games and lost the Big 12 Tournament opener to 15-20 West Virginia.

But Oklahoma shot 58 percent (34-of-59), its second-best mark all season.
Kristian Doolittle had 19 points and matched a career-high with 15 rebounds.
Doolittle said the practices since the Sooners lost in the Big 12 Tournament were some of the most energetic and productive they’d had all season.

“We’ve been having great energy, locking it in and making shots,” Doolittle said.

The Rebels have looked like a tired team for more than a month, and eight days off didn’t appear to help. Ole Miss lost five of its last six, and four of those opponents shot better than 50 percent.

Terence Davis led Ole Miss with 17 points and Devontae Shuler had 13. The Rebels shot 46.8 percent from the field but couldn’t keep up with Oklahoma.

“Oklahoma totally outclassed us and out-toughed us,” Kermit Davis said. “This is not going to define who we are, based on when we took the program over a year and how much progress we have made in a year.”