Tramel: OU basketball turned desperate, in a good way, to win at Iowa State
Trailing 30-9 less than 12 minutes into the game, Iowa State climbed all the way back and took a one-point with less than 12 minutes left in the game.
And OU’s basketball team turned desperate. That can be good or bad. Saturday in Ames, Iowa, it was good. It was very good.
The ninth-ranked Sooners beat the Cyclones 66-56 with a strong finish, and OU remains in second place in the Big 12. The Sooners are 9-4 and with one more victory can secure their first winning conference record since the 2016 Final Four season.
But reaching win No. 9 didn’t come easy. After dominating the first half, the Sooners seemed to relax. Iowa State came roaring back, and Tre Jackson’s 3-pointer with 11:29 left gave the Cyclones a 47-46 lead.
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Lon Kruger called it “human nature,” that OU would relax and Iowa State would bear down. “Their backs are to the wall. We don’t intentionally relax, by any means. But their energy picks up. We get casual. That’s why games are hard to win. We need to be better at playing with leads like that.”
Earlier in the season, OU blew all of an 18-point lead halftime lead but came back to beat West Virginia 75-71. Same script Saturday.
After Iowa State took that 47-46 lead, OU scored on eight of its next nine possessions. And the Sooners did it with more effort than flair. During the spree, OU made just five of 12 shots and just three of six foul shots.
So from where did the points come? Extra shots. The Sooners had six offensive rebounds in those nine possessions, which consumed 6:22 of game clock. In the rest of the game’s 33½ minutes, OU had just seven offensive rebounds.
The go-ahead basket came on a putback, by point guard Austin Reaves off his own aggressive drive. Elijah Harkless got an offensive rebound that set up a Reaves foul shot. Kur Kuath dunked home a Harkless miss. The clincher seemed to be Umoja Gibson’s 3-point shot after Kuath first tipped the rebound, saving possession after Harkless’ missed 3-point shot, then ran down Reaves’ missed long ball. That made it 60-50, and for good measure, Harkless and Gibson teamed to save the ball after Harmon’s missed 3-pointer, setting up another Reaves foul shot.
Offensive rebounds snuff the life out of opponents, and Iowa State was done, down 61-50 with 4:38 to go.
“It was a good response, in terms of losing a lead and widening it right back out,” Kruger said. “Guys maintained their poise. We didn’t play with poise to lose the lead. We were careless with the ball, but when they did take the lead, I thought the guys handled it extremely well.”
Kuath in particular seemed to spark the Sooners. He played only 17 minutes, but OU outscored ISU by 11 during that stretch. Kuath, a 6-foot-11 center who has lost his starting job as Kruger transitioned to a smaller lineup, played solid defense against ISU’s Solomon Young and was instrumental in the offensive-rebounding frenzy.
The Sooners were sharp only in those first 12 minutes. They made 10 of their first 17 shots. They made just 12 of 38 the rest of the game. Meanwhile, Iowa State, which missed 11 of its first 15 shots, made 17 of its next 36 to get back in the game.
The Cyclones have an historically bad record – at 0-13 in the conference, they could become just the fourth team to go winless in Big 12 play. But Iowa State was at full strength Saturday, and when not dealing with COVID-19 issues, the ‘Clones have been competitive. They played tight the entire games at OU and TCU, were beaten by West Virginia by margins of five and four points, and lost by six at Texas.
“They’ve been that way with pretty much everyone they played, when they’ve been at full strength,” Kruger said. “I thought they were the aggressor, especially in the second half. They’ve been tough.”
OU hadn’t won in Hilton Coliseum in a decade. But when slapped across the face in the second half, the Sooners turned desperate and ended that streak.