Two weeks ago, the Oklahoma Sooners had their sights set on a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Tonight, the Sooners will battle the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Stillwater to keep their heads afloat heading into next week’s Big 12 Tournament.
Currently sitting in fifth place, OU has a tough road ahead to finish their regular season slate. After the rematch against OSU, the Sooners will return home to host Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns on Thursday night.
Should Oklahoma’s late season slide continue, Lon Kruger’s Sooners run the risk of falling all the way to seventh place, where they would have to play on day one of the conference tournament.
After Saturday’s 94-90 overtime loss to the Cowboys, Sooner guard De’Vion Harmon said the formula to bounce back is the same as it has been all year.
“Same thing we’ve always done, wether win or lose, watch the film and get better,” he said. “We can get better from every game that we play, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Standing in OU’s way is freshman phenom Cade Cunningham, who is likely still smoking hot from his 40-point performance on Saturday.
Down the stretch, Cunningham took over the proceedings in the Lloyd Noble Center. Possession after possession the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft spurred the Cowboys on, scoring 20 of his 40 points in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime to ink his name in Bedlam history.
“He’s a terrific player, and like good players do he creates a lot of opportunities for others around him,” Kruger said of Cunningham after the loss. “He had a terrific night, and we’ve got to figure out a way to try and slow him down a little bit on Monday.”
Oklahoma only had one practice on Sunday to try and derive an answer for Cunningham, as tipoff Monday evening comes just 54 hours after the opening tip of Bedlam round one.
Despite Cunningham’s heroics, the Sooners still had plenty of chances to emerge victorious on Saturday.
OU had good looks to try and take the lead multiple times late, but came up empty attacking the basket.
“We had a lot of opportunities at the rim that we didn’t finish, so you’re not ever wanting that to happen. Otherwise, we moved the ball better than we had been recently,” Kruger said.
Oklahoma also found success against the OSU defense in the first half when attacking their zone.
“But against their zone… (we) had pretty good action, pretty good movement, you know, good looks,” Kruger said. “We’ve got to keep working at it.”
Senior Austin Reaves took the blame for the ball sticking in the second half, which allowed the Cowboys to claw their way back into the game. Slow starts in the second half have become a concerning trend in February for the Sooners, one they hope to break as the calendar turns to March.
“We’ve had a couple of slow starts out the gate at half and it’s something that we’ve got to do better,” Reaves said. “We’ll watch the film and see the things we can do to improve in that area and just move forward.”
Another area of focus for the Sooners will be cashing in when they force the Cowboys into mistakes.
Oklahoma State turns the ball over more than any team in the Big 12, and the Sooners forced 20 turnovers in the loss Saturday. However, OU only cashed in for 19 points off turnovers, three fewer than Oklahoma State, who forced five fewer turnovers themselves.
Harmon said the failure to convert turnovers to points on the other end is a major blow that must be fixed to win the second matchup.
“It’s tough. I mean that’s really, from detail to detail, that’s the difference between losing and winning in tight ballgame,” he said. “We’ve got to be better in that aspect.”
Opening tip from Gallagher-Iba Arena will be at 8 p.m. on Monday night, and the eyes of the country will again take in Bedlam as it will be broadcast on ESPN.
The quick turnaround will be difficult on both teams, not just the Sooners, Kruger said.
“Both teams have got the same challenge: bounce back very quickly and learn from this ballgame things you want to do differently,” he said.
Harmon said his Sooners will be ready to battle on Monday, no matter how long it takes.
“At the end of the day we’ve gotta lock up, we’ve gotta nut up and we gotta get stops when we need to,” he said. “We’re gonna be ready. It’s another 40 minutes, maybe 40-plus if it goes into overtime again, 40 minute 40 plus ballgame again.
“We just gotta find a way to win. That’s all that matters.”