The Sooners have had their share of early struggles in each of their four games this season.
Against the University of Texas at San Antonio, the Sooners were down 11–4 five minutes into the game and were out-rebounded 24–16 in the first half. Against Minnesota, OU faced an eight-point deficit with just over 12 minutes remaining. The game against Oregon State saw the Sooners miss six shots in a row twice in the first half on the way to shooting 36% from the floor in the first 20 minutes. And on Monday night, Oklahoma missed its first ten 3-pointers and was down 23-12 only 10 minutes into the game.
It is not abnormal for a relatively young squad to go through brief slumps, especially early on in the season. Nonetheless, the Sooners enter their Nov. 21 game against the University of Maryland Eastern Shore with a 4-0 record. Despite being outscored by a combined seven points in the first half across four games, Oklahoma has consistently played well in the second half so far this season, outscoring its opponents by a combined 47 points.
The second-half success the Sooners have had this season can be attributed to production up and down the lineup, whether it be clutch shots from veterans Austin Reaves, Brady Manek, Kristian Doolittle or Jamal Bieniemy or energy brought to the table by freshmen De’Vion Harmon and Victor Iwuakor.
"I think the depth has been a positive of this team and the bench right now is really young so I think they’ll get more and more comfortable and continue to make progress and that will be a big factor of this team,” Head Coach Lon Kruger said.
Though certainly pleased with the way his team has battled late in tight games this season, Kruger said he is more concerned about starting strong.
“We’re more concerned about getting off to better starts because we have played better obviously in the second half,” Kruger said. “Defensively, last night I didn’t think we had one of our better defensive games for 40 minutes but (our defense) in the other three, I thought, keyed good spurts offensively. So we’ve got to continue to do that defensively and try to be more consistent offensively.”
One of the ingredients to consistent success on the offensive side is ball control, and the Sooners are averaging just nine turnovers per game, the fewest in the Big 12 and seventh best in college hoops. Kruger said he expects his team to handle the ball well with three guards and experienced ball-handlers — Harmon, Reaves and Bieniemy — in the starting lineup.
When Oklahoma faces off against the Hawks from Maryland Eastern Shore on Nov. 21, a similar lineup will likely be in place. Kruger’s message to the team could be similar to when the Sooners were down 39-37 at the half against William & Mary.
“You gotta make it happen," Kruger said at halftime. "You gotta play, can’t let them…can’t let them out fight you.”
Tip-off between the Sooners and Hawks is set for 7 p.m. Nov. 21 in Norman.