Staring a 13-point deficit in the face, Oklahoma could have started to see flashbacks from a 2016-2017 season that many want to forget. The shots stopped falling. The shot selection started to regress. The ball stopped moving. Oklahoma stopped scoring. However, the public learned something about this 2017-2018 team that they had not shown yet: Resiliency.
“Well, like you would expect, it was a tough, tough battle from the start,” Oklahoma Head Coach Lon Kruger said in his opening statement following his team’s 90-89 win over No. 10 TCU. “We got off to a good start and then they answered very quickly. Thought they had momentum through much of the middle part of course, (but we made) some good plays and good bounces late to get back in top.”
“(The guys) kept scrapping, didn’t have a lot going, and kept working. Proud of the guys.”
The addition of Trae Young and rapid development of Christian James left Kameron McGusty without a leading scoring role heading into this season. McGusty was the most decorated freshman in the Lon Kruger Era after leading Oklahoma with 14.4 points per game last year in conference play, earning All-Big 12 honorable mention and was a part of the All-Big 12 Newcomer Team. The sophomore had not scored over double figures this season with his move to the bench until the upset of Wichita State on Dec. 9.
McGusty said he had done some “soul searching” after his 13-point performance against the Shockers. Today, that “soul searching” turned into one of the biggest shots of Oklahoma’s season. After a Trae Young missed three, Jamuni McNeace gathered the offensive rebound and kicked it out to a wide open Kameron McGusty with :26 seconds left to go down 87-85. Well, consider his soul searched.
“It meant a lot,” Kameron McGusty said about hitting that go-ahead shot. “It’s just a confidence booster. I’ve got to thank my teammates, though, of course, Trae and the coaching staff. They never gave up on me. They knew I could do it, and it was tough. Still it feels good to get that shot going in, and have a confidence booster going into Wednesday.”
Another win, and another historic performance from Trae Young. The freshman phenom had a measly 39 point, 14 assist, and seven rebound performance in his Big 12 debut. How exactly does that compare with other star Big 12 freshman debuts? Kevin Durant scored 36 points and had 17 rebounds in his debut. Michael Beasley put up 32 points and 11 rebounds and Blake Griffin had 27 points and 14 rebounds when they faced each other. These kinds of performances are becoming the trend for Young.
“It was a battle. They did different things (hedged harder and switched),” Young said about TCU. “My teammates were knocking down shots and creating creases for me to get into the lane. They did a lot of good things.”
It can’t be said enough–Oklahoma went 11-20 last season, and looked awful while doing it at times. The young team seemingly forgot to how to win basketball games after the departures of Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, and Ryan Spangler. Now at 11 wins already and finishing off a 13-point comeback, the distance between last season and this season has finally reached far enough.
“It is big,” McGusty said about this team finishing off a close game. “We experienced (not finishing), and I’m glad we did. We had three players on the court in the last five minutes that knew what it took…so once we knew that (Trae Young and Brady Manek) were confident and knew how to get the win done, we were all confident as well.”
Today’s win over No. 10 TCU made Lon Kruger and Oklahoma the only team since 1976 to beat two AP Top 10 teams on the road before January. If the win over Wichita State was a statement, today’s win over No. 10 TCU was a validation that it’s time to forget the team that went 11-20 a year ago.