By Michael Kinney
The month of January will be one for the records books for the Oklahoma men’s basketball team. They entered 2021 unranked and barely making a blip on the national scene.
By the time the month was over, the Sooners found themselves ranked No. 9 in the nation and riding a five game win streak.
However, as soon as OU left the month of January, their win streak came to an end. No. 9 Oklahoma fell 57-52 to No. 13 Texas Tech on Feb. 1.
“Just a big-time fight,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “Both teams made it really hard to score in the halfcourt. I thought defenses controlled everything. I’m disappointed in the result… still the fight was there, the competitiveness was there.
Despite playing without their starting backcourt of Alondes Williams and Austin Reaves for the second straight game, Oklahoma still had a chance to knock off the Red Raiders on the road Monday.
After trailing by as much as 10, with 1:28 left in the game, OU’s Elijah Harkless drove to the basket for a tough layup that closed the deficit to 50-47. After a pair of TTU free throws, Umoja Gibson drained a 3-pointer.
Leading by two, Texas Tech missed a 3-pointer and it looked like Oklahoma came up with the loose ball. However, Harkless was called for a foul on the rebound attempt.
Terrance Mann put the Red Raiders up 54-50 with a pair of free three. Oklahoma got back within two with, but Mann put the game away when the Sooners intentionally fouled him and he made both free throws.
Oklahoma’s defense held the Cyclones to 33.3 percent shooting and forced 10 turnovers.
However, in their lowest-scoring game of the season, OU shot a paltry 18 of 54 from the field and racked up only three assists.
“I think we kind of found our knack later,” Harkless said. “We had a game plan, but we kind of had to change it up mid-game. We have to be better at adjusting and trusting what the coach says. I think we learned from that.”
Gibson led the Sooners with 14 points in 34 minutes of action. That included knocking down three 3-pointers. De’Vion Harmon added 12 points and Brady Manek chipped in with 11.
Mann paced the Red Raiders with 15 points.
The loss dropped the Sooners to 11-5 and 6-4 in Big 12 action. Tech moved to 13-5 and 5-4 in the conference.
Despite that, what Oklahoma was able to do in January can’t be overlooked.
The Sooners entered Monday on a historic streak. Coming off a win over No. 9 Alabama Saturday, they had racked up four victories against a top-10 opponent in a single month. Oklahoma is just the third team (and first since 1974) to win four games against top-10 teams in one calendar month.
The Sooners also won three consecutive games against top-10 teams, joining Michigan (2014) and Iowa (1987) as the only teams in NCAA history to beat top-10 teams in back-to-back-to-back regular-season games.
The Sooners were outscoring their opponents by an average of 15 points (75.8 to 60.8) during their recent run. Harmon has emerged as the team’s top scorer as of late, averaging 18.2 points on 53% shooting during the run
Due to COVID-19 protocols, the Sooners have been without Reaves and Williams for the past two games. Reaves was leading the Sooners in points, rebounds and assists. He is the only major-conference player averaging at least 15 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Oklahoma will look to get back on the winning track Saturday when they host Iowa State Saturday at Lloyd Noble Center. The Cyclones will be the Sooners first unranked opponent since Jan. 19.
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