Umoja Gibson was set up on the left side of the court, near the Sooners’ bench. As Oral Roberts’ offense crossed half-court and attempted a pass in Gibson’s direction, he intercepted the ball near the timeline with 2:43 left in the first half, ran past the Golden Eagle defenders and cashed in the fastbreak layup.
It wasn’t the steal, the two points or the 15-point lead the transfer guard from North Texas gave OU, but the confidence he played with during the Sooners’ 79-65 win over ORU that deemed beneficial for head coach Lon Kruger and his team, as he lived up to the hype those surrounding him gave him prior to the season.
Gibson finished the night with 14 points and four threes, all of which came in the first half. The junior struggled at times this season, as he lost the starting guard spot to sophomore De’Vion Harmon after the second game of the season, and has shot just 34 percent from the field with just 19 points in four games.
“I thought maybe he was rushing shots a little bit early,” Kruger said. “(He) wanted to contribute, wanted to do what he does. Thought tonight he had great rhythm and he got the first couple (shots) down and you knew he looked awfully comfortable.”
Quickly, Gibson has reinserted himself as the shooter he was thought to be when he arrived at OU, proving as a high-energy scorer off the bench when other guards are struggling to score. Senior guard Austin Reaves didn’t make a field-goal in the first half despite finishing the game with 18 points.
Gibson came to Norman after a season where he averaged 14.5 points-per-game and was an All-Conference USA Second Team selection, while also making 86 3-pointers, third-most in the conference.
But for Gibson’s former coach Ricardo Felix at University High School in Waco, Texas, he wasn’t worried for the tough start to his season.
“Honestly, when I saw those first two games, I knew he was going to have a hard time,” Felix said in an interview with the Daily after the game. “But then I said, 'You know what, it was not a big deal because I know how hard he works.' He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached.
“I know whenever he has bad games, the first thing he’s going to do is keep working hard because he wants to prove to people that Oklahoma made the right decision.”
Gibson’s work ethic started in the summer back home in Waco, as he would put up shots from 6-7:30 a.m. everyday with Felix, sometimes even going back to the gym again later in the day.
Also for Gibson, coming off the bench isn’t new to him either, as he was opted to the bench after starting as a freshman in high school. Gibson told Felix that he “expected to come off the bench and wanted to do whatever it takes to win,” prior to this season at OU.
“Actually, I feel comfortable with the role,” Gibson said. “Last year at North Texas I was a starter, but every year is different. “I’m just gonna do what coach (Kruger) asks me to do, come in and work hard and that’s it. (I’m going to) embrace it.”
Earlier in the season, Gibson scored just two points and missed all three of his 3-point attempts, but played a role with his energy and didn’t get discouraged. When a TCU player tried shoving the ball into Reaves’ chest in a chippy exchange Dec. 6. Gibson immediately had his back.
“He’s always been one of those guys that whoever’s on his team he’s going to be very loyal to them,” Felix said. “He’s going to do everything to help those guys out. When push comes to shove, he’s always going to have your back.”
Enhanced confidence on the floor leads to big plays like steals on defense, which inevitably allowed more points on the offensive end. The Sooners had five blocks and three steals, two each coming from Gibson.
OU’s guard depth is quickly becoming a strength, with sharpshooters in Gibson and freshman Trey Phipps off the bench. The depth will be vital for the Sooners heading into full-time conference play against No. 14 Texas Tech on Dec. 22, especially during a pandemic.
“It’s very important depth,” Kruger said. “Especially in a year like this when not always sure what your roster’s going to look like is huge. So we’ve got really good depth (with) Mo picking up the slack in the first half.”