NORMAN — Nothing comes easy for the Oklahoma Sooners.
Even after dominating the first half and taking an 18-point lead into the break, the Sooners had to withstand a second-half flurry to complete their 75-71 upset of the No. 9-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers.
Senior leaders Austin Reaves and Brady Manek struggled for the second straight game, and Oklahoma had to rely on its depth down the stretch.
Manek was held to single-digit scoring for the second straight game, finishing with seven points on 3-of-9 shooting, and adding six rebounds and three assists.
Oklahoma’s defense dominated in the first half. The Sooners forced 12 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes, cashing them in for 11 points on the offensive end of the floor. OU held the Mountaineers to 23 percent shooting in the first half, and played efficient basketball to pad the lead at the break.
The great defensive effort made up for Reaves and Manek’s slow starts offensively. After Reaves had to head to the bench with 5:44 left in the first half, the Sooners bench immediately responded with an 8-0 run to punctuate their strong first-half outing and an 18-point halftime lead.
“We got a lot of good players, a lot of good playmakers, a lot of shooters,” Manek said after the game. “I think having those different weapons you can put different lineups out there. You can have guys go deeper in the bench and it kind of throws a kink into whatever we’re doing.”
The Sooners were unable to replicate their high level of play in the second half.
“Obviously a game of two different halves,” Lon Kruger said after the game. “Loved what we did in the first half and really got after the ball defensively and did a great job moving the ball and made enough shots to create the lead that we needed.”
And boy did the Sooners need it.
West Virginia opened the second half on a 20-7 run, and had completely erased the OU lead to set the stage for a back-and-forth final 10 minutes. The Mountaineers defense flipped the script, forcing eight second-half turnovers.
While the Sooners offense stagnated, North Texas transfer Umoja Gibson singlehandedly kept Oklahoma in the game.
Pouring in a game high 29 points, Gibson nailed a career high eight 3-pointers.
“(Gibson) made big shots,” Kruger said. “Needed every one of them. … He works as hard as anyone in the country on putting extra time in the gym and when a young guy does that it’s easy to cheer for him, and happy to see him rewarded.”
Once the clock ticked under five minutes, Manek and Reaves came alive to push the Sooners across the finish line.
Up just two points, Manek was able to fight for back-to-back offensive rebounds off of misses by Reaves and Elijah Harkless. Third time proved to be the charm during the OU possession, as Manek then found Reaves again for the open 3 to put Oklahoma up by five.
On the ensuing possession, Taz Sherman cut the lead back to three with a circus layup for West Virginia. But Manek would answer again, nailing his first 3-pointer of the game to give Oklahoma the six-point lead with just 1:48 left in the game.
Manek said he knew he had to find other ways to impact the game since his shot wasn’t falling early.
“If you screw up on offense I mean it kind of pushes you to do something good on defense,” he said. “ … You can’t let a shot get you down, which I’ve been guilty of quite a bit. Just really wanted to out hustle them and we wanted to push them.”
Before the game, Kruger made a starting lineup adjustment by swapping out Kur Kuath in favor of Victor Iwuakor. Kuath, unbothered by his move to the bench, responded with a big game.
Kuath hauled in nine rebounds against the lengthy Mountaineers, with two of those providing second-chance points for the Sooners in the first half. Not just a threat on the boards, Kuath also finished with six points on 2-of-6 shooting.
“Kur was absolutely fantastic,” Kruger said. “Guys know though, play your minutes, they’ll be rewarded. Guys are handling that well.”
Kruger said Kuath would likely be reinserted into the starting lineup next game as the Sooners head to play Baylor next week.
Currently ranked No. 2 in the country, the Bears will be Oklahoma’s third straight top-15 opponent, with No. 3 Kansas waiting in the wings next weekend in Lawrence.
The Sooners and the Bears are scheduled to tip off on Wednesday at 8 p.m.