The Sooners were on an 8-0 run with a little over eight and a half minutes remaining when Maryland-Eastern Shore forward Bruce Guy was attempting to create separation against Victor Iwuakor.
He dribbled toward the baseline, realized he had no alley and turned back toward the wing. Guy and the Hawks were looking to score the team’s first bucket in over three minutes and cut into a growing deficit.
But Iwuakor would not budge. The true freshman responded to Guy’s crossover, poked the ball away and plunged down on the court to retrieve it in front of a pair of diving Hawks. The true freshman tossed the ball up to Brady Manek, who slung it down the court to a streaking Alondes Williams for an and-one dunk.
The play, which was started by one bench player and finished by another, pushed the score to 16 and was just a small part of the Sooners’ 54-26 second-half surge that propelled them to a 91-64 victory at home.
For the Sooners, the win would push the team’s record to 5-0 on the season. For Iwuakor, the play was just another example of the energy he brings off the bench and his willingness to play with physicality and heart.
“Victor’s energy and motor is fantastic,” Kruger said. “We get a lift when he goes in the ballgame and I thought he did that tonight. He was blocking some shots, getting some rebounds, finishing some things in transition. I thought he was really good.”
The freshman duo of Iwuakor and Jalen Hill combined for 20 points on the night and eight total rebounds. The duo pulled down five offensive rebounds in the second half, and the Sooners would score points off four of them.
“Jalen and Victor combined I thought did a great job keeping balls alive on the offensive end, rebounding the basketball and making good plays. Jalen’s instincts are really good," Kruger said. "We put him in there and he keeps getting better and better.”
As Iwuakor and Hill bore witness to with their performances down the stretch, the second half success the Sooners had on Thursday shows just how deep the list of key contributors can go. Kruger refers to the depth as a “strength of this group” and that players like Iwuakor and Hill’s play is improved now compared to the opener two weeks ago.
“(The depth) helps a lot,” senior Kristian Doolittle added. “It will be something that we can use to our advantage toward the end of the season, you know, legs get heavy and things like that. So being able to go deep on the bench will save us on that end.”
The focus going forward will be set on making every possession count and having success over the course of the entire 40 minutes, Kruger said. With an undefeated Stanford squad on the ledger, both veterans and newcomers on OU’s roster will be dialed in on continuing to learn and improve.
“Every game is a learning curve and there’s something that we have to learn from this game as well that will benefit us later in the season,” Doolittle said.