Oklahoma basketball: Three-pointers from a Sooner half stinker

Mar 11, 2021; Kansas City, MO, USA; Oklahoma Sooners guard Austin Reaves (12) is called for an offensive foul as Kansas Jayhawks guard Dajuan Harris (3) reacts during the second half at T-Mobile Center. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 11, 2021; Kansas City, MO, USA; Oklahoma Sooners guard Austin Reaves (12) is called for an offensive foul as Kansas Jayhawks guard Dajuan Harris (3) reacts during the second half at T-Mobile Center. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports /

Oklahoma basketball played its worst first half of the season, and the Sooners paid the price despite a valiant second-half comeback in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament,

The Sooners trailed Kansas 35-15 after the first 20 minutes on Thursday night, but came out in the second half like a ball of fire and actually made a close game of it before eventually falling by seven to the No. 2- seeded Jayhawks, 69-62.

After connecting on just six of 20 shot attempts in the opening half, Oklahoma tripled that productivity in the second stanza, shooting 58.5 percent and outscoring Kansas 47-34. Unfortunately, the hole the Sooners had dug for themselves in the horrific first half was too deep to climb out of.

Oklahoma opened the second half on a 13-5 run and had cut its 20-point deficit in half eight minutes into the second half. It was a completely different Sooner team that came out of the locker room after halftime.

69. 462. Final. 62. 464

A layup by OU’s Elijah Harkless off a missed shot by Austin Reaves with 3:29 remaining closed the gap to three points, at 62-59, but that was as close as the Sooners would come to pulling off a miracle comeback.

The Sooners were unable to take advantage of the absence of 6-foot, 10-inch Kansas forward David McCormick, who missed the game because of COVID protocols. Instead, Jayhawk coach Bill Self went with a smaller four-guard lineup, giving up some offense for a stronger defensive unit, and the quicker defensive intensity gave Oklahoma all kinds of problems in the first 20 minutes.

The loss was OU’s fifth in the last six games, not a direction you want heading into the postseason. The one positive from this is, discounting the first half of the game with Kansas, the Sooners have played well enough to win all five losing efforts. The seven=point loss to the Jayhawks was the largest of the five — all by a combined 24 points and four of which were against teams ranked in the top 15.

Three weeks ago, Oklahoma was 14-5 and in second place in the Big 12 standings. They head into the NCAA Tournament with a season record of 15-10. A second game with Baylor was cancelled, or the late-season fall off might have been even worse.

Strong finish after slower than slow start didn’t get the job done

Oklahoma’s first half against Kansas was by far the Sooners’ worst half of basketball all season. When you can’t put the ball in the basket and turn the ball over on numerous other possessions without even getting off a shot you are literally and figuratively setting yourself up for disaster.

The Sooners committed 13 turnovers over the first 20 minutes. That was just two fewer than the 15 points they had at halftime, their fewest points in a half all season. In fact, Oklahoma had not scored that few points in a half since 2008, when they scored 12 at Nebraska.

Oklahoma made just six field goals on 20 shot attempts in the first half on Thursday night and was just 3 of 16 in the final 17 minutes of the half. At one point in the opening half, Kansas held a 23-point lead.

The Sooners actually made a game of it in the second half, but a 20-point halftime deficit against a good team like Kansas is almost too much to expect to overcome. And that proved to be the case, despite a 48-point second-half effort and a shooting percentage of nearly 60 percent over the final 20 minutes.

Turnovers tell a big part of the story

When you aren’t making shots, the last thing you want to do is limit offensive opportunities by not taking care of the basketball. Oklahoma has led the Big 12 all season in committing the fewest number of turnovers per game, but you wouldn’t have known that by the way the Sooners played against Kansas on Thursday night.

The Sooners entered Thursday’s game with a Big 12-best 10.6 turnovers per game. That ranked 17th nationally, but the Kansas four-guard lineup turned up the pressure on OU defensively, and the Sooners were obviously rattled and disrupted by it.

Oklahoma committed 19 turnovers in the game, 13 of those coming in the first 20 minutes. OU had committed more than 13 in a game just five times this season, let alone in just a half.

Kansas scored 16 first-half points off of Oklahoma turnovers. Nearly half of the Jayhawks 35 points at halftime came from OU turnovers. Half that many might have saved the game for the Sooners.

What comes next?

Oklahoma has no worries about making the NCAA Tournament, but where they will be seeded is a little bit up in the air.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently projects Oklahoma as a No. 7 seed. That’s down three spots from the four line he had the Sooners on just two weeks ago.

Jerry Palm the bracketology expert for CBS Sports projects the Sooners as a No. 8 seed.

The one thing we do know at this point is that OU is in the 64-team NCAA Tourney field and that the Sooners will be heading to Indianapolis next week. Who they will play and what color uniform they will be wearing in the opening game will be revealed on Sunday.