Oklahoma’s MO has been steady against its last four opponents: build up a comfortable or at least impressive lead, then quickly give it all back.
That methodology led to two anxious wins and now, two straight losses — the most recent a 94-90 overtime setback against Oklahoma State.
“We’ll get it right,” sophomore guard De’Vion Harmon said after the Sooners fell in Round One of the Bedlam series on Saturday night. “Just gotta keep making plays. Especially down the stretch.”
That’s been the big problem for the Sooners in their last four games, whether giving up wide open 3-pointers, allowing offensive rebounds and second-chance points, or showing a sudden inability to finish at the rim.
There’s no time to mope and little time to fix things. OU (14-7 overall, 9-6 Big 12 Conference) plays at OSU (16-6, 9-6) in Stillwater on Monday night. The Sooners had a light practice Sunday, will go over a few things Monday, then head north and tip it off at 8 p.m.
Coach Lon Kruger probably will try to do some things differently, such as finding a way to generate more ball movement on offense and establishing a more aggressive mindset on defense. But this game will be about the players making plays — especially late in the game.
“Make plays and just find a way to win. That’s what it’s all about,” Harmon said. “They found a way to win today and we took the L. But we get to bounce back on Monday.”
The Sooners do have plenty of action items on the whiteboard, and they don’t have to go back too far to find them.
- On Feb. 13, West Virginia trailed the Sooners in Morgantown 66-57 with six minutes to play, but OU collapsed down the stretch and had to pull out a 91-90 win in double overtime.
- Last week against Iowa State, OU led by 12 with 15:43 to play, but the Cyclones turned that into 46-45 lead less than four minutes later. The Sooners’ defense came alive in the final minutes for a 66-56 win.
- On Tuesday against Kansas State, Oklahoma had constructed a 53-47 lead with 3:57 to play, but the Wildcats outscored the Sooners 15-5 after the final media timeout and left Norman with a 62-57 victory.
Against Oklahoma State, it was much the same.
Harmon’s 3 built OU’s seven-point halftime lead to 41-31 early in the second half, and the Sooners still led 51-44 with 11:16 to play. But Oklahoma State landed a pair of 3s by Bryce Williams on back-to-back possessions, and Cade Cunningham added another to give the Cowboys a 53-51 lead.
In less than two minutes, OU’s seven-point lead had become a two-point deficit.
The Sooners’ biggest problem was the herculean play of likely No. 1 NBA Draft pick Cunningham. The 6-foot-8 freshman phenom finished with 40 points, and his game was exquisite late. As the clock wound down, Cunningham just got better and better.
OU junior Elijah Harkless actually turned in a strong defensive on Cunningham, but it didn’t matter.
“We’ve got to try to figure out how to slow him down a bit come Monday,” Kruger said.
That might happen, or it might not. Cunningham might get another 40 in Gallagher-Iba Arena. As he showed with Harkless all over him, his scoring — and his ability to elevate his teammates — might not be something Oklahoma can control.
“We knew he was a really good player,” said OU senior Austin Reaves, “and he performed tonight, to say the least.”
What OU can control is its defensive intensity in other areas of the floor, such as when Williams is standing wide open on the perimeter (he was 4-of-10 from deep), or when the Cowboys are in transition (they had 20 fast-break points Saturday night).
And offensively, more movement without the basketball and more awareness by Reaves to find the open shooter and rely less on his prodigious finishing skills might help. Reaves repeatedly drove the paint in the game’s late stages, but Mike Boynton’s zone defense repeatedly collapsed on him and forced either low percentage shots (he was 6-of-16 from inside the 3-point stripe) or turnovers (he committed five).
“They did a good job staying straight up at the rim, and I thought I had some, but I didn’t. I just gotta be better,” Reaves said.
“You can put that one on me. I wasn’t good. I had too many forced shots that led to nothing, honestly. That’s basically it. You go back and watch the film and that’s what it’ll show. Really, just put that on me.”
Said Kruger, “Austin’s been super effective getting to the paint and making decisions. So any time you can get it down in there and, if you’re not getting the calls, then maybe you have to come down on two feet and pump fake and maybe kick it out sometimes. But he was attacking and challenging at the rim. We’ve got to figure out how to get results right there at that moment.”
Harmon said the Sooners just need to touch up a few details. Which is good, because they only get 48 hours to do it.
“I’m not worried,” Harmon said. “We’ll get it right. We’ll bounce back. We got another one on Monday. We got round two of this on Monday so we gotta turn around quick.
“We’re gonna be good. We’re gonna be fine. We get another big-time opportunity to go get one on the road in Stillwater on Monday night. We look forward to the opportunity with blood in our mouths and our eyes wide open.”