Play with fire and eventually you’re going to get burned.
Oklahoma's propensity to wage close battles caught up with them Tuesday night as they fell 62-57 at Kansas State behind a late rally from K-State senior Mike McGuirl.
In a back-and-forth affair, the Sooners had climbed back from a deficit as large as seven points to take a 53-47 lead with 5:11 remaining in the game.
Then, McGuirl took over.
On Senior Night, the Wildcats' lone honoree hit three straight 3-pointers to turn the tide.
“We just got to have more urgency to get there on McGuirl’s 3’s,” Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger said after the game. “He’s such a good shooter and he’s done that all his career, and I thought we were just kind of there, but not enough. We got to have a lot more urgency to get there and make him put the ball on the floor.
“He made us pay for it.”
While McGuirl ignited Kansas State on one end of the floor, Kruger entrusted his own senior to win the game for the Sooners.
Austin Reaves went 2-for-5 over the final two minutes of the game and seemed to run out of gas after pacing the Sooners with 25 points.
Critically, he came up short on the final possession, missing a game-tying 3 with just a few ticks left on the clock.
“The ball was in Austin’s hands to either get a quick two or if he had a chance, to pull up,” Kruger said. “He made the decision to pull up and didn’t get it down.”
The scoring woes late were indicative of OU’s entire night scoring the basketball. Shooting a measly 39 percent from the field, Oklahoma never looked in rhythm against a motivated Kansas State defense.
“We just seemed to be struggling all night,” Kruger said. “We had a few shots that didn’t go, and we got to stay with it though. We got to make an extra pass, perhaps. I thought we got in the paint several times and forced up a tough shot as opposed to getting in the paint and making that one extra pass to get a better shot.”
The 3-point shooting can paper over the cracks for an offense, but that wasn’t there for Oklahoma either as the Sooners made just 4-of-20 attempts from beyond the arc.
One would have been hard pressed to predict a tough shooting night was in the cards with how OU started the game, however.
Jumping out to an early 7-2 run, the Sooners looked to be picking up right where they left off when they dispatched the Wildcats 76-50 back in January in the Lloyd Noble Center.
Then, foul trouble threw OU off schedule.
Rising to contest Kansas State freshman guard Selton Miguel at the rim, Reaves was called for a foul with 7:50 left in the half. As he tumbled to the floor, one of the officials was not pleased with something Reaves said and hit him with a technical foul.
Sending Reaves to the bench with a pair of fouls, the Wildcats then hit all four ensuing free throws to cut the OU lead to just two.
“That’s something we just can’t have happen,” Kruger said. “Changes the flow of the game right there at that moment, you know. Austin’s gotta handle that better.”
Riding the wave of momentum, Kansas State turned to its bigs to take the battle to the Sooners on the boards. Oklahoma had no answers for Wildcat big man Davion Bradford, as he helped turn five offensive rebounds into nine second-chance points for K-State in the first half. Bradford finished with 13 points and eight rebounds.
“In the first half especially, Bradford got some offensive rebound buckets that you can’t afford to give up,” Kruger said. “We had some breakdowns on pick-and-roll coverage there at the top and things that, you know, we generally take care of, we didn’t do that all the time tonight.”
Kur Kuath was a big factor in turning things around, especially defensively, for a stretch in the second half.
Spearheaded by Kuath, the Sooners held the Wildcats scoreless for over five minutes, allowing them to respond with a 13-2 run of their own to recapture the lead.
“Kur did a really good job during his stretch in the second half and made it a little tougher in the post,” Kruger said. “Blocked a couple of shots, did a good job, you know, bolstering coverage. I thought he attacked out there well, he gave us a good stretch.”
Kuath finished with four points, four rebounds and three blocks.
De’Vion Harmon tried to shoulder the offensive load while Reaves was on the bench in foul trouble in the first half. The sophomore guard scored 13 points on 6-of-13 shooting, and added a rebound and three assists.
Outside of Reaves and Harmon, the rest of the team struggled.
Sharpshooter Umoja Gibson only shot 2-of-11 for seven points, with one of his makes coming on the first possession of the game. Brady Manek only added two points on 1-of-7 shooting, and Elijah Harkless scored five points on 2-of-5 shooting to round out the starters.
Oklahoma now looks ahead to in-state rivals for a home-and-home series. The Sooners host Oklahoma State in the first game of the 2020-21 Bedlam basketball series at 2 p.m. in Lloyd Noble Center on Saturday, then visit the Cowboys on Monday. Saturday's game will be broadcast nationally on ABC.