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'I was just ready for the moment': Bijan Cortes' late heroics lead OU in rally past No. 11 Iowa State

NORMAN — Nothing was going to keep Bijan Cortes out of the game.

OU earned a 79-66 win over No. 11-ranked Iowa State on Saturday, but the statement victory wasn't possible without some late-game heroics from an unlikely source.

The Sooners trailed 57-52 with 9:30 left in the game when Cortes checked in. It only took 20 seconds for the freshman backup to make an impact, as he drew a double team on a drive to the rim before dumping the ball off to Jacob Groves for an easy layup.

OU (12-3, 2-1 Big 12) then forced a turnover on the ensuing defensive possession, and Cortes ended the fastbreak by delivering a dime to C.J. Noland for another chip shot.

Cortes provided an offensive spark, but the strong showing presented OU head coach Porter Moser with a dilemma: When should he sub out Cortes for starting point guard Jordan Goldwire?

"(Cortes) was in a great rhythm," Moser said. "I kept on asking him, 'Bijan,' because he was looking exhausted. I didn't want him going one or two minutes too long because that's sometimes when you get a turnover."

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Oklahoma Sooners guard Bijan Cortes (14) goes past Iowa State Cyclones guard Tre Jackson (3) during a men's college basketball game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Iowa State Cyclones at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.

Cortes insisted that he was fine every time.

"I was a little bit fatigued," Cortes said. "But really, I was just ready for the moment. I wasn’t trying to go out. I just wanted to execute the plays."

That he did.

Cortes guided OU to a 63-61 lead with 5:07 remaining. And after being generous all night, he decided to create for himself.

The Kingfisher native worked his way into the lane before spinning off his defender and sinking a mid-range jumper that sent the home crowd into a frenzy.

Cortes never returned to the bench down the stretch. He finished with four points and a career-high five assists in 16 minutes while recording a team-high plus/minus of 20.

Umoja Gibson poured in a team-high 20 points. Elijah Harkless and Tanner Groves chipped in 15 points and 14 points, respectively.

Here are three takeaways from the contest:

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Izaiah Brockington is the real deal

Izaiah Brockington didn't need much space.

The Iowa State senior only had a handful of seconds left on the shot clock as his team trailed 8-4 with 16:37 left in the first half. Brockington was being guarded tightly by Harkless, who stayed close despite every fancy dribble move and crossover attempt.

Out of time and options, Brockington elevated from the free throw line and knocked down a contested mid-range bucket. He then held his right index finger up to his lips, signaling the crowd at Lloyd Noble Center to quiet down.

Brockington continued to silence the crowd all night as he sank one difficult shot after another. The Penn State transfer scored 12 of Iowa State's first 16 points, and he tied for a game-high 20 points.

Brockington has led the charge for an unexpected turnaround of the Iowa State men's basketball program. The Cyclones finished 2-22 (0-18 Big 12) last season and were picked to finish last in the conference's preseason conference poll, but they've already exceeded expectations.

The Cyclones (13-2, 1-2) boast two AP Top 25 wins thanks in part to Brockington, who is averaging season-highs of 17 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.

(Brockington) hit really good shots," Moser said. "You’ve got to tip your hat to him. (Harkless) was all over him. Like three or four shots that he hit, (Harkless) was all up in him. And that’s big-time shots by him... He is an elite scorer. He’s an elite shot maker, and he plays hard."

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Oklahoma coach Porter Moser celebrates with fans after a men's college basketball game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Iowa State Cyclones at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. Oklahoma won 79-66.

Sooners stay alive with 3-pointers

Harkless had to make up for it.

OU found itself in a 21-point deadlock with 6:08 left until halftime when Harkless made a cut to the rim and secured a perfect pass. The senior guard developed a reputation for finishing tough close-range buckets, but this one got away from him.

Harkless went up for an open layup and watched as the ball danced on the rim before rolling out.

The uncharacteristic miss didn't haunt Harkless for too long, though. Noland found the veteran Sooner in the corner a few plays later, and he knocked down a 3-point shot to tie the game at 27 apiece.

The pair of moments summed up the first half for OU. Despite going 6-for-10 from 3-point range (60 percent), the Sooners only went 5-for-15 from 2-point range (33.3 percent).

Iowa State shot the ball with better overall efficiency. The Cyclones went 4-for-7 from outside the arc (57.1 percent) and 12-for-17 from inside the arc (70.1 percent) to take a 36-32 lead into halftime.

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OU's Tanner Groves (35) and Elijah Harkless (55) celebrate beside Iowa State's Robert Jones (12) during the Sooners' 79-66 win Saturday in Norman.

OU finds its shooting touch from close range

Gabe Kalscheur never saw it coming.

OU held a 65-61 lead with 4:36 left in the game when Gibson caught a pass behind the arc and contemplated his next move. The senior Sooner was 2-for-3 from behind the arc up until that point, but he had something else up his sleeve this time.

Gibson blew past Kalscheur on his way to the rim and finished with a reverse layup to extend the Sooners' lead to six points.

The close-range bucket exemplified the second half for OU, which enforced its will down low after leaning heavily on 3-point shots in the first half.

After going 5-for-15 from inside the arc in the first half (33.3 percent), the Sooners went 17-for-20 in that department in the final 20 minutes (85 percent).

The close-range efficiency proved to be the difference as OU earned its third win over an AP Top 25 opponent this season.

Justin Martinez can be reached at or @JTheSportsDude on Twitter. Make sure to subscribe to The Oklahoman to stay up to date with all local sports.