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OU men's basketball: Lon Kruger disappointed in season ending due to coronavirus, understands gravity of situation

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Kristian Doolittle and Lon Kruger

Senior forward Kristian Doolittle talks to head coach Lon Kruger during the game against Texas on March 3.

After redshirt junior guard Austin Reaves hit a go-ahead jumper with 0.5 seconds remaining at TCU on March 7, he ran down the court saying "It's over."

Of course, Reaves was just talking about the game, which ended in a 78-76 Oklahoma win. But it also ended up ringing true about the season, as it was the last time these Sooners laced up and took the court together.

Over the course of the week, the coronavirus pandemic has impacted college basketball — and the entire world of sports — in unprecedented ways. First, the Big 12 announced there would be limited access to the conference's tournament on Wednesday. The following day, the Big 12, along with multiple other conferences, canceled its tournaments. Mere hours later, the NCAA Tournament was canceled, ending the season.

OU head coach Lon Kruger said the changing nature of the situation meant the team had to adjust to new circumstances quickly. They found out about the Big 12 Tournament's cancellation at the tournament in Kansas City, Missouri, but still had their eyes on the NCAA Tournament. On their way back to Norman, the Sooners heard about the season's end.

"The message to the guys kept changing, and they’ve handled it well," OU head coach Lon Kruger said in a media teleconference on Friday. "Obviously any athlete is disappointed to not be playing, but they fully understand the gravity of the situation and understand that the primary concern is the health and safety of the student-athletes and the staff and the fans.”

The Sooners' win against TCU placed them as the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament, and all but solidified an NCAA Tournament berth. It appeared Kruger's squad looked like they may have been peaking at the right time with March Madness around the corner, but their season ended with Reaves' heroics.

Kruger repeated multiple times on the teleconference that he and his team were disappointed that their season ended in such an abrupt manner, but understood that slowing the coronavirus outbreak was more important than the sport. 

“Of course there’s disappointment in not being able to participate, but it pales in comparison to the event," Kruger said. "What’s going on worldwide is much, much, much more significant than our disappointment in not being able to play. Yeah, there’s disappointment, but when you put it in context, it’s pretty insignificant.”

It's unclear how long the NCAA will keep its halt on sports amid the pandemic, but the Sooners will return the bulk of their roster into 2020.

The only senior on the team is forward Kristian Doolittle, who led the team in scoring and rebounds en route to being named to the All-Big 12 First-Team. The Sooners return every other player, most notably Reaves and All-Big 12 Third Team selection Brady Manek. 

The NCAA agreed to grant an extra year of eligibility to players in spring sports, but have not made a decision on winter-sport athletes. This leaves Doolittle and other winter athletes in a purgatory for their eligibility, but Kruger remains proud of his senior.

“In Kristian’s case, you compliment him on all that he’s accomplished and thank him for all he’s contributed," Kruger said. "It’s disappointing that he’s not going to be able to finish with actual participation, but the fact that he led his team to the opportunity to earn a (NCAA Tournament) berth, and he certainly did that, and he’s proud of that."

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Sports editor

Vic Reynolds is a journalism sophomore and The Daily's sports editor. Previously he served as a sports reporter covering OU's football, softball and wrestling teams.

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