UW-Milwaukee sends Sooners home

The Panthers pull off their third upset in two years

? Wisconsin-Milwaukee wavered, but never cracked. The Panthers almost never do at this time of the year.

Once again showing why they’ve stopped surprising themselves in the NCAA Tournament, the Horizon League champions pulled off their third upset in two years by eliminating No. 6 seed Oklahoma 82-74 in the Minneapolis Regional on Thursday.

Boo Davis scored 26 points and Joah Tucker had 24 for Milwaukee (22-8), which blew a 10-point lead only to rebuild it to double-digits again and hold off the favored Sooners to advance to a second-round matchup against either No. 3 seed Florida or No. 14 South Alabama.

“That’s where experience comes in,” said Tucker, one of five fifth-year seniors who start for Milwaukee.

“You know there’s going to be runs in the game. You’ve got to find a way to stop the runs. : We had to find ways to get baskets and get to the free-throw line. But the most important thing is that we stayed poised.”

Tucker, one of the stars in Milwaukee’s stunning run to the round of 16 last season, scored nine during a 23-7 surge that carried the Panthers to a 60-46 lead with just over seven minutes to go.

The closest Oklahoma (20-9) got the rest of the way was six. Terrell Everett led them with 21 points on 10-for-20 shooting, but most of his production came after it was too late.

“It was hard to play catch-up,” Everett said. “They made their free throws. They did everything right to win the game.”

Four starters remain from the team that upset Alabama and Boston College before losing to eventual national finalist Illinois in last year’s tournament. But Milwaukee got it done this time without former coach Bruce Pearl, now at Tennessee.

First-year coach Rob Jeter instituted the necessary changes to begin putting his signature on the team, but was also careful to listen and find a way to coexist with the team’s veteran leadership.

“You have a group of freshman, you can just tell them what to do,” Jeter said. “With seniors who have been around the block, of course they are going to see how far they can go. But with this team, it’s all in fun.”

Oklahoma finished what many feel was an underachieving season with three straight losses, one of them a 24-point setback at Texas.

Inconsistency undermined the Sooners all year, and it looked like they could be in for a long afternoon when Tucker’s high-arcing 3-pointer put Milwaukee up 24-14 with just over eight minutes left in the opening half.

But just as quickly as it appeared the game might be slipping away, Michael Neal hit a 3-pointer and Kevin Bookout made two easy baskets to start a 17-9 run that closed Oklahoma’s deficit to 33-31 at the half.

The Sooners closed the gap despite playing the last three minutes of the half without Bookout, who walked off clutching his already taped left wrist after getting tangled with a Milwaukee player and tumbling to the floor.

The Oklahoma forward returned for the start of the second half with his wrist taped even more heavily and finished with 14 points. David Godbold had 15 points and leading scorer Taj Gray had 13 before fouling out in the closing minutes.

Neal, another key to Oklahoma’s offense, played with a sore foot and was limited to three points on 1-of-8 shooting.

“I don’t want to make excuses, but he just couldn’t move,” Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said, adding the turning point in the game was a sequence early in the second half when Oklahoma had the ball on four straight possessions with a chance to take the lead, but turned it over three times.

Tucker was only 5-for-14 from the field, but made 13-of-16 free throws to help Milwaukee outscore Oklahoma 26-5 from the foul line. Davis came up big in the decisive surge, too, delivering two long 3-pointers and driving the lane for a difficult layup to put the Panthers up by double-digits.

Oklahoma, which has made 11 NCAA appearances in 12 seasons under Sampson, lost in the first round for the first time since being beaten by Indiana State in 2001.