Carlson: OU men's basketball gets best game from De'Vion Harmon after Sooner guard's worst week
Watching his teammates dribble out the final seconds of the game, De’Vion Harmon waved his arms, then clapped his hands and belted out a celebratory whoop.
There was lots to celebrate.
OU 75, Kansas 68.
On a day the Sooners scored a signature win, a boost to their NCAA Tournament resume and a confidence builder at the beginning of a brutal four-game stretch, Harmon was huge. He led the Sooners in scoring for the third straight game, playing efficient and smart basketball even with the side drama of high school buddy Jalen Wilson being in Jayhawk blue.
But after those final seconds ticked away and Harmon looked into the stands where his family was sitting, there wasn’t just joy.
There was pain.
Harmon recently lost his great grandmother, a woman he affectionately called “Big Mama.” Then on Friday, Rusty Segler, a longtime high school coach in the Dallas-Fort Worth area who Harmon had known well, died, too.
“It’s been a tough week,” Harmon said after a long pause. “My teammates knew it. I wasn’t at practice Thursday because I went to my great grandma’s funeral.
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“It was tough.”
Which makes what the sophomore guard did Saturday all the more impressive.
He had his best game as a Sooner.
Harmon has been stellar since OU lost a close one at Kansas a couple weeks ago. He scored 22 points against TCU, then 16 against Kansas State. He shot better than 50 percent from the floor in both games.
Thing is, neither of those teams are nearly as good as Kansas.
But Harmon was every bit as good against the ninth-ranked Jayhawks. He scored a game-high 22 points, shooting 7 of 14 from the floor and 4 of 9 from behind the 3-point line. He added two assists and committed no turnovers.
That line is pretty hard to beat.
“No one puts in more time, before practice, after practice,” Sooner coach Lon Kruger said. “Competes hard, plays hard every day in practice. Any time a guy is doing that, you want very much for him to have huge success.”
And this is huge, not just for Harmon but for the Sooners, too.
Austin Reaves has been a steady scorer all season; even though he had some shooting woes Saturday, he still finished with 16 points. But with Brady Manek still fighting the effects of an extended COVID-related absence, the Sooners needed another consistent scorer. Harmon has filled that void.
But truth be told, once Manek returns to form, having three guys who could get 20-plus points would be significant.
“As many people as we’ve got that can score the ball is very important,” Reaves said, “and we’ve got a lot of guys that can. It just depends on the night and how the ball falls. We trust a lot of people to do that.”
Still, it looks more and more like Harmon is that third option.
That wasn’t necessarily the case as little as a month ago. Even though he arrived last year as a ballyhooed freshman, he never seemed to settle in. He’d string together a couple double-digit games, then go scoreless a week later. He has similar inconsistencies earlier this season.
Now, Harmon is hitting a stride, and teammates and coaches believe a mental switch has flipped.
“I think having success right now is the thing that's allowing him to continue to have success,” Kruger said. “He's playing with so much confidence. Making shots. Attacking the rim. Always real solid defensively with great effort.
“The level of confidence right now allows him to feel good about continuing to do what he's doing.”
Harmon said. “I’m taking some time thinking about it, kind of visualize the game before it happens so when the ball is tipped you can react on instinct.”
He felt that way Saturday, especially with the way the game started. Wilson, who Harmon has known since childhood and teamed with at Denton Guyer High School, scored the game’s first basket. Then after Harmon scored OU’s first basket and followed up with a three, the two traded makes.
Wilson hit a three.
Harmon a three
Wilson another three.
“I was like, ‘We fixin’ to really do this?’” Harmon said with a laugh. “That little six-, eight-minute spurt right there, it was amazing. It was an amazing feeling. I know he felt it, too.”
Harmon managed the emotions of that matchup, letting it fuel him, not derail him.
Then again, that was relatively easy compared to dealing with the pain of recent days. He was mourning a family matriarch and a basketball mentor. He was hurting even as he was playing.
“I know Big Mama’s watching,” Harmon said of his great grandma. “I know she was watching over me. I know she’s proud.
“I just left it all out there on the court.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.