NORMAN- After a month on the road, the Oklahoma Sooners finally hosted an opponent from the Lloyd Noble Center.
Oklahoma outlasted the UCF Knights 53-52 in a defensive struggle.
“Needless to say, both teams had a lot of trouble scoring,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said after the game. “I thought the guys on both teams really worked hard defensively.”
UCF took advantage of foul trouble early to push their lead in the first half.
Entering the game on back-to-back 20 point performances, Kristian Doolittle picked up his second foul early in the first half.
With Doolittle on the bench, UCF pounded the Sooners inside, finishing the half with a 16-6 advantage in the paint.
Despite the Knight lead stretching as far as 12 in the first half, Oklahoma was able to close the gap down the stretch, trailing just 32-27 at the half.
Oklahoma was able to turn the tide out of the halftime break.
Just 15 seconds into the second half, Doolittle drew the first foul call of the game against the Knights. Doolittle’s drive to the basket was one of the first times all game Oklahoma forced UCF to contest their shot at the rim, and he was rewarded with a pair of free throws.
“Rare for any team to not have a foul called [in a half], but we weren’t attacking very much,” Kruger said. “We weren’t giving them much of a chance to foul us on most occasions.”
After trailing for most of the game, the Sooners clamped down defensively, allowing just 10 points over the final 10 minutes of the game.
“Obviously it wasn’t going to happen on the offensive end,” Kruger said. “Defense clearly was the reason we got back into the ballgame and ended up winning it.”
Brady Manek’s three with 1:21 left in the game capped off his big double-double, and put the Sooners ahead 53-48.
“Brady making that big shot late was huge,” Kruger said.
Oklahoma survived a final push by the Knights in the final minute and a half, forcing a missed three at the buzzer to secure the win and end their two-game losing skid.
The Sooners were out-rebounded yet again, a trend Manek said the team has to correct.
“As a team we have to attack the boards more,” Manek said. “We have to get those loose balls and leading from that we can push on the offensive end.”
Kruger adjusted the starting lineup for the first time in over a month, sliding Alondes Williams into the lineup for De’Vion Harmon.
Williams recorded just 11 and a half minutes of action, and shot 1-of-8 from the field.
“Ironically [Williams started] just to get another little bit of a scoring punch in there but it didn’t work out,” Kruger said.
“We kind of challenged him to shoot it a couple of times early there and got in his head a little bit but he’ll be fine,” Kruger said. “He’ll bounce back.”
Harmon responded well to coming off the bench against the Knights, creating big opportunities for his teammates in the final moments of the game.
“De’Vion came back in and gave us a big lift, a big lift in the second half for sure,” Kruger said.
“He handled it like a competitor.”
Oklahoma will return to action Dec. 30 when they host the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Oklahoma.