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Oklahoma Sooners Basketball: Trae Young and the Sooners sent a message to detractors with a win over Kansas

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After last week’s losses, some labeled Oklahoma as a one-man team with a ball-dominant star. Trae Young and his teammates had an answer on Tuesday night.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Oklahoma Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

In Oklahoma’s 87-69 loss at Kansas State, Trae Young turned the ball over 12 times, struggled with his shot and shouldered a good portion of the blame for the defeat. In the Sooners’ subsequent game at Oklahoma State, Young attempted 39 shots and scored well over half of his team’s points — 48 of the 81, to be exact — and forced more than a few 30-footers in an OT loss. It’s easy to admit that the optics weren’t fantastic.

Young had been a fantastic facilitator and floor general up to that point and still leads the nation in assists per contest. Reason would suggest that an individual leading the nation in assists is an unselfish player with quality weapons around him, but misguided narratives often run rampant in our world — particularly when new faces happen to arrive on the scene. Recency bias often comes into play, and that was definitely the case following Oklahoma’s consecutive defeats. People were starting to label Oklahoma as simply a one-man team with a ball-dominant, volume-shooting superstar.

It was a largely unfair assessment, but it was also somewhat understandable. Young’s freakishly high usage rate has sort of become common knowledge at this point, and perceptions begin to form when folks watch his teammates struggle to get shots or find a groove, as was often the case last week. However, that two-game stretch was largely an outlier. Again, Young currently leads the nation in assists per game and had a pretty respectable assist/turnover ratio prior to Oklahoma’s mini-slump. Throughout the season, Young has done a great job finding open shooters such as Christian James and Brady Manek, but that has never grabbed the headlines. People tune in to ESPN every night and see a guy who shoots — and often makes — deep threes, and that’s the image that sticks in a person’s head.

Fast-forward to Tuesday night’s game against No. 5 Kansas...

Trae Young took only nine shots as the Oklahoma Sooners topped the Jayhawks by a score of 85-80. Yes, nine shots, and he made seven of them. And remember those super-long threes we talked about? We didn’t see a whole lot of that at all, although he did swish a couple of them. In the end, Young scored 26 points while taking fewer than 10 shots. He also dished out nine dimes, which was his highest total since his 10 against Texas Tech two weeks prior. After his style and methods had been called into question (largely due to recency bias), Young was a picture of efficiency on Tuesday evening.

Norman’s favorite son (apologies to Vince Gill and James Garner) needed to get his teammates involved and limit his low-percentage attempts in order to lead Oklahoma to its fourth top-10 win of the season, and he did just that. Young assisted on the two game-clinching three-pointers made by Christian James and Brady Manek down the stretch, and both of those key guys ended up in double-figures after struggling to some extent in Manhattan and Stillwater.

Speaking of James and Manek, Young’s supporting casting isn’t comprised of scrubs. James had some issues with his confidence last season, but he’s always had the ability to fill it up and play solid defense. Manek has one of the quickest releases in all of college basketball and doesn’t seem to have trouble finding good looks. If he can expand his game and add a bit of bulk, he could be a future NBA guy. Rashard Odomes is great at getting to the bucket and finishing around the rim and is also one of the best perimeter defenders in the Big 12. Oklahoma’s best players from a year ago — Kameron McGusty and Kristian Doolittle — come off the bench in 2017-18 and are both capable of putting up numbers and making big plays. On top of all that, Oklahoma has two really good centers in veteran Khadeem Lattin and the bouncy Jamuni McNeace, both of whom did some nice things on Tuesday.

And the defense? Well, the defense can generously be described as a work in progress, and criticism on that front is a bit more fair. However, this team seems to have a knack for clamping down in big situations and clearly has the talent to be good on that end, so this is still a team that can compete with pretty much anyone out there.

So why the slump heading into the Kansas game for Young and his teammates? Well, freshmen are obviously going to have to learn lessons along the way, and those games will serve as learning experiences for Young. When Oklahoma got behind in those games, Young tried to shoulder the entirety of the offensive burden. When things got tough against Kansas — and they definitely got tough in the second half — he continued to trust his teammates as he had in the first half when the offense was running like a well-oiled machine. In all honesty, it’s quite safe to say that we’d all like him to take more than nine shots in the remainder of Oklahoma’s games, but the Oklahoma State performance (as incredible as it was at times) should and probably will remain an outlier.