'Believe in your work': Elijah Harkless delivers another clutch bucket in OU's win over Kansas State
NORMAN — New year. Same Elijah Harkless.
The senior guard delivered for Oklahoma down the stretch of numerous games during non-conference play this season. Whether it was his late mid-range bucket to secure a win over UCF or his miraculous 3-pointer to send the team into overtime against Butler, Harkless shined in the biggest moments.
Despite leading by as much as 15 points in the first half, the Sooners found themselves deadlocked with the Wildcats at 65 apiece with just 53 seconds left in the game.
That's when Harkless worked his magic once again.
He gathered a pass along the baseline and rocked Mike McGuirl to sleep before blowing past him with a swift crossover. McGuirl tried to recover by bumping Harkless, but it was too late.
Harkless finished the floater despite being fouled to give OU a 67-65 lead. The late bucket helped secure a victory for the Sooners (11-2, 1-0 Big 12).
Harkless finished with a team-high 21 points to go along with seven rebounds. Umoja Gibson tallied 19 points, while Jordan Goldwire added 11 points.
"My teammates believed in me, telling me to take those shots," Harkless said. "Just believe in your work. Everything will take care of itself."
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OU dominates the offensive glass
Kaosi Ezeagu didn't even see it coming.
The 6-foot-10 Kansas State center appeared to be in the perfect position to rebound a missed shot by Goldwire as the ball clanked off the rim with 15:58 left in the first half.
But then he saw something in the corner of his eye.
Ethan Chargois came flying in from behind and snatched the ball out of the sky before Ezeagu could get his hands on it. The 6-foot-9 Chargois then dribbled the ball out of the paint and looked as if he wanted to set up a new play, but he caught the Wildcats off guard by quickly finding Goldwire on a cut to the rim for an easy layup.
The second-chance bucket sparked a trend for the Sooners, who refused to quit on the glass all night.
Despite averaging a subpar seven offensive rebounds per game entering the contest on Saturday, OU racked up a season-high 13 offensive boards against Kansas State.
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Kansas State finds its groove in the second half
Jalen Hill got a hand up, but it didn't matter.
Kansas State only trailed 65-62 with 1:10 left in the game when Hill committed a turnover that sparked a fast break. Selton Miguel found Ismael Massoud on the right wing, and Hill quickly ran back in an effort to contest the 3-point shot.
Massoud was quicker, though. The 6-foot-9 forward elevated and knocked down the deep bomb to tie the game.
Massoud's 3-pointer highlighted a spirited second-half push by the Wildcats, who couldn't buy a bucket in the first 20 minutes. After recording nine turnovers and just eight made shots in the first half, Kansas State's offense came alive out of the break.
The Wildcats took much better care of the basketball, committing just two turnovers, and they caught fire from deep. The road team went 9-for-16 from 3-point range (56.3%) to claw its way back into the game.
Kansas State never took the lead, but its second-half comeback attempt certainly got OU's attention.
"It wasn’t pretty, but we found a way to win," OU head coach Porter Moser said. "You have to give Kansas State credit. The shots they made and to keep coming and not quit, you have to give them credit."
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OU's bench gets even shorter
The Sooners' depth took a hit before the start of conference play.
After defeating Alcorn State on Dec. 22, OU entered a nine-day hiatus that included a four-day stretch in which players were given time off to be with family during the holidays. When the Sooners suited up for Saturday's game against the Wildcats, they were undermanned.
Senior center Tanner Groves, junior forward Jacob Groves and freshman guard Bijan Cortes did not suit up due to health and safety protocols. Moser said he hopes Jacob Groves will be available for Tuesday's game against Baylor, but it's too soon to tell if Tanner Groves and Cortes will dress out.
The absence of Cortes and the Groves brothers is huge. Tanner entered 2022 averaging a team-high 14.3 points per game. Jacob provided much-needed depth at small forward, and Cortes thrived as the second unit's primary facilitator.
C.J. Noland shined the brightest in an expanded role. The freshman guard scored a career-high 10 points to go along with three rebounds and a steal in 24 minutes. He was the only bench player who scored.
"(Noland) gave us a good scoring punch," Moser said. "I think he’ll tell you we have to talk about the switching and some of his defensive things. But man, was he confident? (His) 10 points on four shots was really great efficiency, and we needed that."
Bench production was already a concern for OU before the trio's absence, which comes just before OU's toughest stretch of games all season.
The team's next two games are against No. 1 Baylor (13-0, 1-0) on Tuesday and No. 8 Iowa State (12-1, 0-1) on Saturday.
"Every game is going to come down to the last shot or the last two minutes," Gibson said of conference play. "The group that's together the most is the one that's going to win the most. There's a lot of talent in the league. You have to lace your shoes up every night and be ready for it."