When it became evident the Sooners would be playing without lone senior Kristian Doolittle, head coach Lon Kruger had no choice but to give some of his less experienced players more minutes. The duo of true freshmen Jalen Hill and Victor Iwuakor both saw minutes at the forward position, the two serving as complements to newcomer guards De’Vion Harmon and Austin Reaves.
Sooners certainly had some struggles early in the game, whether it be failing to knock down shots or losing on the boards, but a second half surge stirred a strong sense of excitement and hope into the OU crowd at the Lloyd Noble Center. Led by 23-point efforts by both Harmon and Reaves, the Sooners never looked back following an early second half run and cruised to an 85-67 victory over UTSA to open up the 2019 campaign.
“The guards helped me out a lot tonight, and I think we got a really good win as a team,” junior forward Brady Manek concluded after the game.
Early in the game, the absence of Doolittle showed up in the box score, as the Roadrunners out-rebounded the Sooners 24-16 in the first half, and the cross-state foes entered the half tied at 36 apiece.
In the second half, the Sooners improved on the boards on both the offensive and defensive sides, which led to more opportunities in transition for Reaves and Harmon, Kruger said.
“I thought the transition for the most part was keyed by the wings getting the ball and pushing it and getting opportunities in transition from the boards,” Kruger said.
When the newcomer guards began to heat up, there was little the Roadrunners could do to stop them. Oklahoma came out of the gate in the second half with a 12-2 run, with all 12 points coming from Reaves and Harmon.
Harmon electrified the home crowd with back-to-back threes and Reaves — who only went 1-for-7 in the first half — sunk a pair of layups to create the game’s first notable score gap. The Sooners held a 48-38 lead with just over 16 minutes left in the game and never looked back. Less than three minutes later, Reaves drilled a three-pointer to put Oklahoma up 14.
After 12 minutes passed, the Sooners held a commanding 83-67 lead over UTSA, and all there was left to do was cheer. Fans specifically targeted Reaves, who walked off the court in the waning seconds to a round of applause from the Sooner faithful. The applause was perhaps based in appreciation for the second half show and excitement for a young but talented 2019 Sooners’ core.
After the game, Harmon said his team’s play gave him reason to celebrate.
“Austin was nuts in the second half, that was crazy,” Harmon said. “And to witness that … as a teammate, you have to be happy for him. I was celebrating.”
Meanwhile, junior forward Brady Manek said he’s seen Harmon and Reaves’ promise in practice.
“They played great, they’ve been doing that every day,” forward Brady Manek said. “And for them to come out and do that in their first official game as a Sooner, it’s really cool. I’m happy for them, happy for the team — team played really well.”
The Sooners are set to venture out to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for a Saturday evening game against Minnesota, who like the Sooners, lost in the round of 32 in the 2019 NCAA Tournament one year ago.