While it was tempting for some to look ahead to Monday’s meeting between Oklahoma and Kansas, the third-ranked Sooners had some important business to take care of before going to Lawrence with No. 11 Iowa State in town. And after looking off-balance offensively in the first half the Sooners performed much better in the second half, taking better shots and getting some timely scoring from guard Isaiah Cousins.
Cousins scored all 15 of his points in the second half, including two huge three-pointers down the stretch, to help lead No. 3 Oklahoma to an 87-83 win over the Cyclones. Lon Kruger’s team remains one of three remaining undefeated teams in college basketball, and their game at Kansas should be a matchup of the nation’s two highest-ranked teams.
The difference for Oklahoma was the caliber of perimeter looks they got against the Iowa State defense. In the first half many of those looks were rushed, as Oklahoma played with an impatience they hadn’t shown much of in prior games. Instead of using their dribble penetration and passing to create quality looks the Sooners took the first available shot on many occasions, resulting in their shooting 3-for-16 from three in the first half. That changed in the second half, with Oklahoma calming down and making eight of their 13 attempts from beyond the arc.
Oklahoma did leave some points on the board in the form of missed layups but they still averaged nearly 1.4 points per possession in the second half, and they did this with Buddy Hield (22 points) scoring eight points on 2-for-9 shooting.
There were definitely positives for Iowa State to take from the game, including Georges Niang scoring a game-high 29 points and Deonte Burton adding 19 and five rebounds off the bench. Niang’s a Big 12 and national Player of the Year candidate; what he brings to the court is well-known by now. But Burton’s going to be a key player for an Iowa State team that is looking to get by with a seven-man rotation.
Burton scored both inside and out against Oklahoma, and his ability to defend multiple positions makes him a player capable of filling multiple roles for Steve Prohm’s team. That versatility is one way Iowa State can account for their shallow bench, and it will have to be that way if they’re to contend both in the Big 12 and nationally as the season wears on.
For as well as Burton played in the second half Cousins was slightly better, rebounding from a 2-for-11 night in Oklahoma’s win over Harvard Christmas night. Oklahoma’s guards collectively rate among the best in the country, and when one’s struggling the others can step forward. With Hield’s shot being off in the second half Cousins got going, ensuring that the Sooners would make the trip to Kansas without a blemish on their record.