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OU basketball: Without Brady Manek, Sooners turn to defense but come up short at Kansas

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) celebrates after scoring against Oklahoma during the second half of a 63-59 win Saturday in Lawrence, Kan. [Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports]
Kansas forward David McCormack (33) celebrates after scoring against Oklahoma during the second half of a 63-59 win Saturday in Lawrence, Kan. [Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports]

LAWRENCE, Kan. — There was no din roaring through Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday afternoon when OU took on No. 6 Kansas.

No fans breathing down the necks of the coaches and players.

No wonderment at how more than 16,000 fans can crowd into the small footprint of one of the most revered venues in college basketball.

But the Sooners left the Phog with the same result as they had for almost 30 years now — a loss.

This one came down to the wire before the Jayhawks got going offensively and avoided the turnovers OU had been able to force in bunches much of the day, as Kansas pulled off a 63-59 victory.

“Proud of our guys (but) very disappointed that they couldn’t end up with the satisfaction of a winning feeling,” Sooners coach Lon Kruger said. “But they battled and battled and laid it out there.”

OU hasn’t won at Allen Fieldhouse since 1993.

Without Brady Manek, their second-leading scorer, or valuable bench piece Jalen Hill, Kruger had to be creative working with an undersized lineup.

Manek and Hill both missed the game due to COVID-19 protocols.

Elijah Harkless started in Manek’s spot and helped fuel the Sooners’ strong defensive performance, as he finished with three steals and a block in 38 minutes. Harkless hadn’t played more than 18 minutes in any other game this season.

But while the Sooners forced 16 turnovers, tying the season high for the Jayhawks, Kansas took advantage of the size disparity late, avoided turnovers in the final six minutes and sent OU to its second consecutive loss.

The Sooners led after Austin Reaves’ jumper with just less than three minutes remaining but Kansas immediately answered on David McCormack’s bucket, the Sooners couldn’t answer on the other end and Jalen Wilson, the high school teammate of OU’s De’Vion Harmon at Denton (Texas) Guyer, hit a 3-pointer to nearly seal the Sooners’ fate.

But it’s the chances earlier that haunted OU in the end.

Before Alondes Williams and Umoja Gibson hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Sooners up one with less than four minutes remaining, OU missed seven shots in the last 10 minutes that would’ve put them ahead.

The Sooners were just 4 of 13 from behind the 3-point line in the second half and shot just 33.3% from the floor in the final 20 minutes.

Only Reaves, who finished with 20 points and played nearly 39 minutes, scored in double figures.

“Wish we could’ve (pulled) it off, but it’s sports, things happen,” Reaves said.

The Sooners found out they were without Manek and Hill on Friday. Manek, a senior, hadn’t missed a game in his career.

The absences left OU with just Kur Kuath and Victor Iwuakor down low. Both struggled with foul trouble, as the Sooners had one of the two on the floor with four fouls for the final 11:02.

“They handled it well,” Kruger said. “They didn’t hang their heads. They didn’t pout about it. They understood the lineup and had to go battle.”

While the offense with the 6-foot-3 Harkless at Manek’s usual forward spot struggled at times, Reaves said the game can serve as a blueprint for success moving forward, though the Sooners have had their two worst shooting games of the season in a four-day stretch.

“I feel like we can be a really, really good defensive team and keep us in games if we’re not shooting really well,” Reaves said.

Ryan Aber

Ryan Aber has worked for The Oklahoman since 2006, covering high schools, the Oklahoma City RedHawks, the Oklahoma City Barons and OU football recruiting. An Oklahoma City native, Aber graduated from Northeastern State. Before joining The... Read more ›