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OU men's basketball: 3 takeaways from Oklahoma's comeback win over Kansas State

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Austin Reaves

Redshirt junior guard Austin Reaves during the game against Kansas State Jan. 4, 2020.

Oklahoma survived another slow shooting start to defeat Kansas State in a comeback victory on Saturday, 66-61.

The Sooners (10-3, 1-0 Big 12) had a tough challenge in front of them, facing the defending regular season Big 12 champions in Kansas State. But the Wildcats (7-6, 0-1 Big 12) have had a tough start to their season with losses to Pittsburgh, Bradley, Marquette, Mississippi State and Saint Louis.

Despite a slow start shooting the ball, the Sooners found a way to win thanks to some important adjustments on the defensive end.

Here’s three takeaways from Oklahoma’s win over Kansas State: 

Another slow start

One of the Sooners biggest problems this season has been getting out to a fast start and Saturday was no exception.

Oklahoma came out of halftime trailing by just three points after a rough start shooting the ball. The Sooners made just two of their 11 first half three point attempts while allowing the Wildcats to make 43 percent of their attempts from deep. 

“We’ve got to keep working on getting a better flow offensively,” Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger said, “Kansas State’s so good defensively, they’re not gonna give you anything in transition, they’re not gonna give you anything easy.”

The Sooners led for just 44 seconds of game time in the first half but made all 10 of their free throw attempts while Kansas State made two of its four attempts. 

“They’re one of the best free throw shooting teams in the league, and maybe the country,” Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber said, “We just put them there way too many times.”

The Sooners continued their shooting struggles early in the second half, making just one of 11 attempts from the field following the break. Kansas State forward Xavier Sneed lighting up the scoreboard in the first half, scoring 10 points on 3-6 shooting including 2-3 from behind the arc.

Sneed finished with 22 points and six rebounds.

The comeback

The Sooners trailed by as many as 11 points with 14 minutes remaining in the game before surging back to make it a three point game with 8:37 left on the clock.

By that point, the Sooners offense was beginning to find it’s rhythm but were struggling to get stops on defense. This was when Kruger decided to change up the defense from man-to-man to a 3-2 zone defense.

“At that point just anything to change up their rhythm and the other guys responded very well to that,” Kruger said.

The Sooners have ran mostly man-to-man defense for the majority of the season so far but the new defensive look made it difficult for the Wildcats to get open shots. 

“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.”

The Sooners held the Wildcats to just one made three in 11 attempts in the last 10 minutes of game time. Meanwhile, Reaves started to heat up in the second half, scoring 18 of his 21 points after the break.

“I was in a good rhythm, 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,” Reaves said.

The Wichita State-transfer had an efficient night shooting the ball, scoring on six of his 11 attempts from the field and 4-8 from the 3-point line. Reaves also added six rebounds, two assists and two steals.

“We’ve got to play 40 minutes, you feel good about the response when they are down late but still we’d like to do things to avoid being down late,” Kruger said, “A win like this really reinforces the things we’re after in practice, that’s how a team grows and that’s how you make the progress necessary.”

Starting Big 12 play

The win gives the young Sooners squad its first win in conference play this season. The Wildcats finished the 2018-19 season as the regular season Big 12 champions, becoming the first school besides Kansas to win the conference in 14 years.

Kruger had been preparing his team for the physicality of the Big 12 all week in practice.

“Coach has been preaching mainly to the people who’ve never played a Big 12 game before, saying just how physical it’s going to be,” Doolittle said, “Practices leading up to this game were very physical, a lot of contact because you can only simulate so much in practice so I feel like the new people are handling it very well.”

The Sooners are going to need a good showing in conference play to impress the selection committee in March. The Sooners went 9-3 in a difficult non-conference schedule that featured a month-long road trip.

Oklahoma will look to improve on their conference record as they prepare for a road game against arch-rival Texas on Wednesday. The game will tip off at 8 p.m. CT on ESPN 2.

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