No. 23 Oklahoma braces for mental challenge of facing No. 11 Texas Tech's defense

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

OU's Christian James passes the ball across the court during the Bedlam basketball game, Saturday,Jan. 5, 2019, at Lloyd Noble Center.

NORMAN, Okla. — If long-range shots aren't falling, when do good shooters decide to call it quits and try something else?

It's a fine line, one Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger is all too familiar with.

Though the No. 23 Sooners (12-2, 1-1) scored their 12th win in 14 games, beating rival Oklahoma State 74-64 on Saturday, they enter Tuesday's 8 p.m. game at No. 8 Texas Tech with shooting issues.

OU has failed to hit at least 30 percent of its 3-point attempts in each of the last four games, shooting 25 percent and dropping to 34.6 percent on the season. The shots aren't falling, but the Sooners still average 22 attempts and must brace for a tough stretch ahead.

Texas Tech, first, and Saturday's opponent, Kansas State, fifth, are both in the top 5 of Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, which measures points allowed per 100 possessions. Texas Tech (13-1, 2-0) is the NCAA's top team in 3-point percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 24.6 percent.

Last year, OU shot just 7 of 22 from the perimeter in Lubbock, which includes Freshman All-American Trae Young's 0-for-9 mark.

“You want to promote confidence, aggressiveness and doing what we have been doing,” Kruger said. “But at some point you have to realize that it's got to be a good percentage play. I think we'll start making shots. We had more good looks on Saturday than I realized.”

Even last year's squad, which finished the season shooting .359 from behind the arc, had rough stretches. Over a six-game period from Feb. 3 to Feb. 19, the Sooners shot 25.7 percent. They lost all six games.

This year's team has split four games in which it's struggled from deep. That shows its versatility, the variety of ways it can score and its defensive proficiency.

“An open 3 is an open 3,” forward Matt Freeman said. “But there are teams like Texas Tech that they're going to be closing out a lot harder and rushing at you quicker. But you've got to shoot the ones that you know you have to shoot.”

Freeman has been one of the players affected by this shooting slump.

He's still shooting 36.4 percent from the perimeter but has made only 2 of his last 13. Starters Christian James and Brady Manek are right there with him. James knocked down 3 of 7 against OSU, but he hit just 3 of 17 3-pointers in the two road games leading up to Bedlam. Manek hasn't found his rhythm all season, sinking just 31.3 percent of his 3-pointers, and in the last three games, he's 3 of 12.

“You just want to keep shooting,” James said. “We've just got to stay aggressive. They'll fall.”

Tuesday's matchup provides a good mental test.

No team has scored 70 or more points on Texas Tech this season. Even No. 1 Duke mustered only 69.

It will be difficult to hit shots in Lubbock, and there will be moments that Freeman, Manek, James and all of OU's other shooters will want to let it fly. How they respond could not only decide the game, but how this team operates going forward.

“It's important to stay positive,” Freeman said. “We have an old group, so that helps. This is also a confidence group. I really don't think these missed shots have gotten to anyone, and it shows, too. We go out there every night and shoot the same shots that we would the previous night.”

John McKelvey

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jmckelvey@normantranscript.com

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