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OU basketball: With Big 12 play dead ahead, Sooners clobber Alcorn State behind 3-point shooting, stifling defense

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Bijan Cortes

Freshman guard Bijan Cortes during the game against Alcorn State on Dec. 22.

Oklahoma opened Wednesday’s nonconference matchup against Alcorn State ice cold from 3-point range.

Nothing was falling for the Sooners, even though they were taking open shots. Over nine minutes and seven 3-point misses into the first half, senior forward Ethan Chargois broke the proverbial lid on the rim with OU’s first 3-point make.

Senior guard Umoja Gibson knocked down three more — two in the final two minutes of the first half — to jumpstart Oklahoma’s offense, which finished 9-for-21 from beyond the arc, tied for its second best percentage of the year. After Chargois’ make, the Sooners finished with a blistering 64.2 percent mark from 3-point range.

The Sooners (10-2) combined their 3-point shooting with suffocating defense to stifle Alcorn State 72-48 in Norman, solidifying their best start since 2018-19. It was a fitting win for Oklahoma, which has already developed a strong defensive identity under Moser, to close out the bulk of nonconference play before beginning its conference gauntlet.

“This is the best basketball conference in the country this year, bar none,” OU head coach Porter Moser said of the Big 12. “The average NET (ranking) is in the 30s. The next highest conference average is in the 70s. That’s a huge disparity… so we have to take it up another level.”

Once the Sooners began hitting shots — OU finished shooting 60 percent from the field, its best so far this season — the primary issue Moser singled out ahead of Big 12 play was turnovers. Oklahoma had a season-high 20 turnovers against ASU (1-11).

“I believe the Big 12 has six of the top 30 out of 358 teams at forcing turnovers,” Moser said. “So, we've got to be on top of that when we come back.”

Seven of the 10 Big 12 teams are in the top 30 of KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric — including Oklahoma — and nine teams are in the top 50. Only TCU, at 56, sits outside the top 50. Additionally, seven Big 12 schools are in the top 50 with scoring defense nationally.

Gibson was one of the many Sooners to contribute defensively with two steals against Alcorn State. He finished with 17 points, his season high, to lead OU in scoring, and was the only player besides freshman guard C.J. Noland to play more than five minutes and not have a turnover.

After shooting 2-for-11 from beyond the 3-point line in OU’s 66-62 loss to Butler on Dec. 7, Gibson has now hit at least four 3-pointers and broken double digits in his last three games after hitting only four 3-pointers in one game prior to his hot stretch. Gibson has also snatched four or more rebounds in Oklahoma’s last three wins after only securing four rebounds once in OU’s first nine games.

“I think our guys start to look for him in transition,” Moser said. “They look for him at the end of the press. … Everyone knows that Mo can shoot. That's a key because guys start to play out, that's going to help you as a teammate. So if you're feeding Mo when he's open, that's gonna open things up, because it's hard to sink off him.”

It wasn’t just Gibson that had an impactful night for Oklahoma. Chargois hit both of his 3-point attempts, grabbed two rebounds and had a block. Freshman guard Bijan Cortes had a career high six points with two assists, led the bench with 19 minutes and finished at plus 14.

“They pressed the whole game,” Moser said. “I thought (Cortes) did a nice job running the offense out there. He's been doing more and more.”

Both Cortes and Chargois will enter Big 12 play for the first time when OU takes on Kansas State at 7 p.m Jan. 1 in Norman. The duo, along with the rest of the Sooners’ new faces, has been informed just how difficult conference play can be.

“(Senior guard Elijah Harkless and Gibson) talk to me all the time about it,” Cortes said. “It's just a grind. Every single day is a big game. You have to play strong, play physical, you can't go out there scared, and you basically just take every game and just go as hard as you can.”

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