Here are three takeaways from Oklahoma’s (11-2, 1-0 Big 12) hotly-contested 71-69 win over Kansas State (8-4, 0-1 Big 12) in the Sooners’ first game of Big 12 conference play:
Sooners’ roster impacted by COVID
Oklahoma’s roster had been remarkably consistent so far in terms of staying healthy and on the court. The Sooners had used the same starting five in all 12 games to start the season.
But, about half an hour before tipoff in Saturday night’s Big 12 opener against Kansas State, the university announced that guard Bijan Cortes, leading scorer Tanner Groves and younger brother Jacob Groves would all be out due to health and safety protocols.
Tanner Groves leads the Sooners with 14.3 points per game (and in rebounds with six per game) and has started every game for Oklahoma. Cortes and Jacob Groves have been used off the bench, an area where the Sooners have had issues putting up points.
It’s not ideal timing for the Sooners, who take on undefeated, top-ranked Baylor on Tuesday.
Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell, second on the team with 12.8 points per game, was also ruled out shortly before the game due to health and safety protocols.
Another fast start
Once again, OU jumped out to a big first-half lead over an opponent, a start that proved crucial in holding off late Kansas State runs in the second half before the Sooners sealed their two-point victory.
Oklahoma started the game with an 8-0 run, the Wildcats not scoring their first points until the 15:40 mark of the first half. During that stretch, OU’s Umoja Gibson converted a four-point play when he drilled a three, got fouled, and tacked on the free throw.
The Sooners would build up leads of 15-5 and 27-12 during the first half before ultimately taking a 33-22 halftime lead into the locker room.
Sooners spread it around, hang on to win
Kansas State was slowly able to climb back into the game as the second half went on, and even managed to tie the game at 65 with a minute left.
With no Tanner Groves and his dependable offensive presence, the Sooners needed others to step up and contribute offensively. They ended up getting just enough of that to cling to a nail-biting 71-69 win.
Oklahoma had five players score in double figures, led by senior guard Elijah Harkless with 21 points. Harkless was huge down the stretch (not the first time this season, either), putting up eight points in the final 5:24 of the game, including this shot to reclaim the Sooners lead with 36 seconds left:
Gibson was vital down the stretch as well, finishing with 19 points and hitting four-of-four huge free throws to close out the game. Waxahachie’s C.J. Noland went four-for-four shooting off the bench and finished with a career-high 10 points.
It’s a hard-fought home victory for Oklahoma to kick off conference play, and now the Sooners will prepare for Tuesday’s game against the defending national champions.