Sooners continue to roll, upset No. 9 KU
It’s a brutal eight-game stretch coming up for Oklahoma. One top team after another, but it means a lot of opportunities for some key big wins.
That first one can be checked off. The Sooners began a stretch of playing seven ranked teams in eight games with a 75-68 victory against visiting No. 9 Kansas on Saturday afternoon.
The win puts the Sooners at 9-4 overall, 5-3 in Big 12 play and gives OU three wins in a row.
“It's always good to beat a team like that,” senior guard Austin Reaves said. “Tough, well-coached. And the next games aren't going to be easy. So, you just do what you can do, get the win, build on it and then you just move forward and give it your all.”
It’s fitting OU was able to close the door this time around against the Jayhawks, but you could make a strong case the 63-59 loss in Lawrence two weeks ago was the moment where the light bulb came on for the Sooners.
Since then, the defensive intensity has been top-notch, and OU has found a lot of different ways to win games. If you thought the Sooners only had to rely on Reaves or Brady Manek to win a game, it’s clear there are a lot of integral parts with this year’s club for Lon Kruger.
Manek, still recovering and getting back in sync after missing two weeks with COVID-19 protocols, had a moment or two, but it was really the play of De’Vion Harmon offensively, and the defensive efforts of Umoja Gibson and Elijah Harkless and the closing ability of Reaves to put this one away.
“I think defensively, the progress that we've made allows us to stay in ball games when we haven't been real smooth offensively,” Kruger said. “I thought that was the case. In the first half, we really shut down offensively in the last four or five minutes. Defensively, we kept ... we went in with a lead. We didn't like giving away the lead that we had. This club can win different ways.”
OU took a 29-28 lead into halftime, and it remained a tight battle with the Jayhawks the rest of the way. With OU nursing a 65-60 lead with just over two minutes left, a disjointed possession led to Gibson with arguably the play of the game.
Deciding he was going to make something happen, Gibson drove the lane, got fouled and made the shot. It became a free throw marathon for the Sooners the rest of the way to ice their second win vs. a top-10 opponent this season.
“Those type of plays often times determine the outcome of a game,” Kruger said. “It’s not always the play that is run perfectly but the loose ball that is turned into a bucket. Scramble for an offensive board that turns into a three, often times, decides the outcome. Yea, Umoja was critical during that time.”
De’Vion Harmon led the way with 22 points, while Reaves scored all 16 of his points in the second half.
* Harmon playing with heavy heart.
“I looked at my dad and my parents were sitting over there (long pause). It's been a tough week,” Harmon said. “Lost my great grandma, coach Seg from Little Elm High School passed away yesterday, so it’s been a really tough week. My teammates knew it. I wasn't at practice on Thursday, cause I went to my great grandma's funeral. It was tough.
“I know Big Mama’s watching. I know she was watching over me. I know she's proud. It wasn’t about me, it wasn't about playing against Kansas, it was about giving everything I have for my teammates, for my family and for all the people who genuinely want to see me succeed. And I just left it all out there on the court.”
* OU shot zero free throws in the first half but got into the bonus early and went to work in the second half. The Sooners went 18-for-22 from the line to seal the deal.
“I thought we attacked better in the second half. In the first half, we got a little bit stagnant,” Kruger said. “The ball hung up a little bit. We didn’t have the movement. I thought the second half, we moved the ball better and attacked some long closeouts and got to the paint. We got into the bonus early. I thought that was critical. The guys were aggressive in attacking.”
* Doesn’t get any easier. That stretch continues Tuesday night at Texas for the first of two meetings vs. the Longhorns this season.