OU coach Lon Kruger using loss at Xavier as teachable moment: 'We have a lot of work to do'
Xavier was red hot.
Perhaps, a lock-down defensive performance from OU would have made a difference. Or it was just one of those nights where not even all-world defense wins.
Sooners coach Lon Kruger still wants to use the 99-77 loss at Xavier on Wednesday night as a valuable lesson for his players.
“Not a lot of positives can come out of this other that we can learn a lot,” Kruger said to open his postgame interview.
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On a night the Sooners’ defense collapsed and allowed Xavier to make a school-record 19 3-pointers, Kruger found the first loss of the season to be a wakeup for his veteran squad.
OU (2-1) needs to be more physical. It needs to be tougher to the basketball. It needs to be more aggressive. It needs to rebound stronger.
“This reinforces our need to do all that,” Kruger said. “We didn’t do much defensively to keep them out of their rhythm, out of their routine, and we have a lot of work to do.”
The Sooners’ offense mostly hummed along like it had in the previous two games. OU shot 48.3% overall and had five players score in double figures, including a team-high 17 points from senior Brady Manek.
“That wasn’t the end that caused us trouble,” Kruger said.
But the defense wasn’t getting stops and creating transition opportunities and the offense became a half-court set that wasn’t enough.
Xavier (7-0) also looked much like a team that had played seven games.
It made 19 of 32 3-pointers and shot 57.1% overall.
Forward Zach Freemantle scored 28 points, making 12 of 14 shots. He made his first seven shots and his last five shots. Guards Paul Scruggs and Nate Johnson combined for 45 points and 11 treys.
It was Johnson who hit back-to-back 3s to give Xavier a 20-point lead with 7:12 remaining. He later hit another to make it a 22-point advantage.
“They were hot,” Kruger said. “They shot the ball better. But when you aren’t doing much to disrupt them, their confidence grows. I think we contributed a lot to their shooting the ball well.”
Kruger believes the film study of the game will show every point he made to his players.
“I think we have a lot of ammunition to support that from this ball game,” Kruger said.
And perhaps by Dec. 22 when the Sooners host Texas tech in their second Big 12 game, they’ll look more like a team finding a rhythm in a crazy season.
They have three winnable games inside Lloyd Noble Center to work out the issues — Saturday against Florida A&M, next Wednesday against Oral Roberts and Saturday, Dec. 19, against Houston Baptist.
“It's exciting to have the opportunity to learn now really what our priorities and what our deficiencies are and how much we gotta work on those,” Kruger said. “With each game as we go, we'll work on those, work on getting better and the opportunity to do that in practice is one thing.
“But transferring it and doing it in a game is still the test. We've got a couple days here in preparation and we've gotta take advantage of that.”
Jacob Unruh covers college sports for The Oklahoman. You can send your story ideas to him at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jacobunruh. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.