NORMAN- It wasn’t always pretty.
In fact, for most of the game, it was ugly.
But down the stretch, Austin Reaves found his shot, powering his Oklahoma Sooners to a 66-61 victory over the Kansas State Wildcats in the Big 12 Conference opener.
“As you expect conference games to be, it was really hard fought,” Sooners coach Lon Kruger said after the game.
Oklahoma escaped a physical game in which they shot just 19-of-51 from the field and 5-of-23 from three.
The offensive struggles for the Sooners were compounded as they started 1-of-13 from the field in the second half, and saw their five point deficit grow to 11.
The Sooners looked to the defensive end of the floor to turn around their fortunes.
“Seemed like we were just trying to grab a hold and hang on for much of it,” Kruger said.
“Defensively there in the second half, the last 12 or 13 minutes, I thought that saved us again,” he said.
Though their efforts may not show up in the box score, guards Jamal Bieniemy and De’Vion Harmon were excellent on the defensive end for the Sooners.
Sticking their hands in passing lanes and closing out shooters behind the arc, the energetic duo played a key role in holding the Wildcats to just 5-of-21 from three in the second half.
Kruger said he was pleased with how his guards defended down the stretch.
“De’Vion gave us a great lift activity wise and in a physical way defensively on the ball there in the second half,” he said.
Kruger said he was especially pleased with how Bieniemy hasn’t let his shooting struggles hurt other aspects of his game.
“It speaks to his maturity,” Kruger said. “He’s going to start making shots, but he’s not letting not making shots affect other parts of his game.”
While Oklahoma hung in the game with their defense, Reaves finally began to heat up down the stretch.
Reaves scored 18 of his 21 points in the second half, including the go-ahead three with 1:36 left in the game.
“I was just in a good rhythm,” Reaves said. “The players and the coaches just kept putting me in situations to make good plays, and that’s what I tried to do.”
The Sooners will need Reaves to continue to score at a high level throughout conference play. Doolittle and Reaves were the only two Sooners to score in double figures against the Wildcats.
“[Doolittle] kept us in the game for the first 30 minutes of the game,” Reaves said.
“We kept battling and our team came away with a good win.”
Doolittle said he was pleased with how the freshmen on the team responded to their first conference battle.
“Our practices leading up to this game were very physical,” he said. “You can only simulate so much in practice, so I feel like the new people handled it very well and came out ready to play.”
Despite the slow starts, Reaves said the team has confidence they can continue to turn things around in the second half if needed.
“With the talent we have, we feel like we’re any game.”
The Sooners will head to Austin, TX in their next outing to face the Texas Longhorns on Jan. 8 at 8 p.m.