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OU men's basketball: Sooners rely on strong second half from Austin Reaves in 66-61 win over Kansas State

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Kristian Doolittle and Austin Reaves

Senior forward Kristian Doolittle and redshirt junior guard Austin Reaves move down the court during the game against Kansas State Jan. 4.

Redshirt junior guard Austin Reaves had just 3 points going into halftime of the Sooners’ 66-61 win over Kansas State on Saturday.

Reaves had scored the first points of the day for Oklahoma on a 3-pointer just a minute into action. The Wichita State transfer would miss his only other attempt and add three turnovers as the Sooners went into the break losing 33-30.

With 14 minutes remaining in the game, the Sooners trailed by 11 and seemed on their way to their fourth loss of the season.

“We all knew the score,” Reaves said. “Everybody on the team wants to do something that will help, maybe start a run — whether it be diving on the floor for a loose ball or getting an offensive rebound.”

Oklahoma had been relying on their lone senior to carry the bulk of the scoring up until that point. Forward Kristian Doolittle led all scorers with 13 points at halftime on 3-5 shooting and was 7-7 from the free-throw line.

“Doolittle kept us in the game for the first 30 minutes of the game," Reaves said. "If it wasn’t for that we might’ve been down 15 late.” 

Doolittle’s scoring alone proved not to be enough against the Wildcats, and the Sooners needed a change. Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger said he knew they needed to do something to get his team back on track.

Kruger decided to go with a zone defense, something the Sooners have used very rarely this season. Reaves and the Sooners were able to find easier looks offensively with their new defensive strategy.

“When we went to the zone, there was a big change,” Reaves said. “We haven’t been running the zone long, so it’s good to see us execute what we’re supposed to do.”

Kansas State forward Xavier Sneed was having a solid game up until that point, as he scored 22 points on 7-17 shooting from the field and 5-13 from the 3-point line. Sneed had also been tasked with slowing down Reaves with relatively good success.

But the Sooners’ new defensive look made scoring more difficult for Sneed, and he eventually picked up his fourth foul of the game.

Sneed went to the bench, and Reaves took advantage. The Arkansas native scored 18 points in the second half on 5-9 shooting from the field and 3-6 from deep.

“I was in a good rhythm," Reaves said. "The players and coaches kept putting me in situation to make good plays, and that’s just what I tried to do — make good plays.”

Eventually, Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber had to bring Sneed back into the game, but he didn’t want to put the Missouri native back on Reaves because of his ability to draw fouls.

“You don’t want him to foul out,” Weber said. “Reaves is tough. He’s got a wiggle, he knows how to make plays, knows how to draw fouls, and we want to have Xavier (Sneed) in at the end. If it comes down to the last couple of shots, I want to make sure he’s in the game.”

The Sooners finished the game on a 12-0 run to secure their first win in conference play. Reaves ended the game with 21 points on an efficient 6-11 shooting from the field and 4-8 from deep. The redshirt junior added six rebounds, two assists and two steals.

In his first Big 12 conference game, Reaves was asked if the game felt a little different from the others he’s played with Oklahoma.

“Yeah, a little bit,” Reaves said. “Coach has been preaching all week to all of us that haven’t played in the Big 12, telling us how physical it’s gonna be, and we’ve got to take every second on the court like it’s our last because that’s how fast a game can change in the Big 12. The game can change if you relax for two or three minutes.”

The Sooners' next game will come on Wednesday, when Kruger’s squad travels to Austin for a meeting with Texas at 8 p.m. CT on ESPN 2.

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