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'Heart over height': Umoja Gibson's career-high 8 3-pointers, clutch shots propel Sooners to upset win over No. 9 West Virginia

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Mo Gibson

Junior guard Umoja Gibson defends a West Virginia opponent Jan. 2.

Junior guard Umoja Gibson waited in the corner, ready to fire. 

As senior guard Austin Reaves drove to the lane and forced two West Virginia defenders onto him, he kicked the ball out to Gibson, who drained the 3-point shot, quickly pounding his chest and pointing up to the sky. 

The shot gave Oklahoma a 58-55 lead, and Gibson hit his eighth three of the game as he scored 29 points in the Sooners’ (6-2, 2-1 Big 12) 75-71 upset over No. 9 West Virginia (8-3, 1-2) on Saturday afternoon. His 29 points were the most by an OU player off the bench since the 2001-02 season.

“Shout out to God,” Gibson said. “I wouldn’t be in this position without him. I just feel good right now.”

On a night where Reaves and senior forward Brady Manek struggled, Gibson led the team in minutes and was tied for first in shots off the bench. The North Texas transfer played his best game of the season when the Sooners needed him most.

“He made big shots,” head coach Lon Kruger said. “(We) needed every one of them. Obviously, (in the) second half down the stretch there (he made) a couple big, big threes when the game was tied. He stepped up there. He was great. 

“He works as hard as anyone in the country on putting extra time in the gym, and when a young guy does that, it’s easy to cheer for him, and (I’m) happy to see him rewarded.”

Since the first three games of the season, where Gibson struggled and was just 5-of-23 from the 3-point line, he’s shot 22-of-42 from three and improved his 3-point percentage to 41.5 percent. To Kruger, Gibson’s improvement is a testament to his hard work.

“I mean, he’s every coach's dream in that he comes in and works his tail off before practice after practice,” Kruger said. “He’s saying whatever is good for the team, he’s ready to do it, and you want that type of an attitude from every player.”

Reaves and Manek scored a combined six points in the first half, although the Sooners went into halftime with an 18-point lead. West Virginia stormed back and tied the game with 10:28 left in the second half, and after that point Gibson turned it on. He scored 12 of his 29 points with just under 10 minutes to go, including three consecutive threes after the game was tied to give OU the lead again. 

“Just having a guy get hot like that, it kind of keeps you in the game, and especially when our defense went down in the second half,” Manek said. “I mean, he kept us in the game.”

Alongside his strong offensive night, Gibson excelled defensively in the first half. The Sooners held West Virginia’s leading scorer, guard Miles McBride, to just four points in the first half, and Gibson defended him multiple times. 

“Moja’s great, and certainly a guy that can make shots,” Kruger said. “But I thought he did a terrific job defensively on the ball too, especially in the second half. (He) guarded the ball with his quickness. He can do that and he had a terrific game.”

Despite West Virginia being a bigger team — the Mountaineers lead the Big 12 in rebounding and are sixth nationally in offensive rebounds per game, with three players standing 6-foot-7 or taller in the starting lineup — the 6-foot-1 Gibson didn’t back down. 

“I’m kind of used to being the smallest player on the court,” Gibson said. “They’re gonna try to shove me, push me around, but it’s the heart. It’s the heart over height.”

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