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Oklahoma Basketball: Short-handed Sooners stun No. 9 Alabama, 66-61

Minus two starters, OU was able to stem the Tide and earn its fourth top-10 win in the month of January.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 30 Alabama at Oklahoma Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In this year’s Big 12/SEC Challenge, the No. 24 Oklahoma Sooners toppled the No. 9 Alabama Crimson Tide (14-3), 66-61. With the victory, OU extends its current winning streak to five games and improves to 11-4 overall on the season.

Shortly before tip-off on Saturday morning, Oklahoma announced that starting senior guards Austin Reaves and Alondes Williams would both be unavailable for this intriguing top-25 non-conference matchup due to COVID-19 contact tracing protocol. As a result, Lon Kruger called upon sophomore forward Jalen Hill and junior guard Umoja Gibson to take their place in the starting lineup.

On the day, sophomore guard De’Vion Harmon led all scorers with 18 points on 7 of 15 makes from the field that included a trio of made three-point buckets. He also added four rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals. Also starring for the Sooners was junior guard Elijah Harkless, who stepped up in a major way for his team with 14 points, five rebounds, three takeaways and one helper.

OU couldn’t have drawn up a better start than the one it had against a hot Alabama squad. Behind a relatively raucous crowd inside the Lloyd Noble Center, Oklahoma raced out to an early 11-2 lead over the Crimson Tide. In fact, the SEC leader was forced to play from behind for the majority of the game, while only briefly enjoying small leads occasionally throughout. After finding itself trailing by five, Kruger’s crew ended the first half on a 12-4 run to lead 32-29 at the break.

In the second half, the Sooners continued to stymie the Tide’s offense with their own brand of aggressive defense. Additionally, after struggling mightily since his return to the team (COVID-19 protocol), senior forward Brady Manek finally found his shot and scored a dozen points off the bench all in the latter half of the contest. Both he and sophomore forward Victor Iwuakor cleaned up the boards with six and seven rebounds, respectively.

As Oklahoma built an eventual 12-point lead late in the game, Alabama rallied with an 11-0 run and even regained the lead for a moment. Fortunately, OU’s Hill was money at the free throw line, and the aforementioned Harkless was especially clutch down the stretch. In the end, the Sooners recorded arguably their most impressive win of the season, all things considered. With a third straight victory over a top 10 team, there’s no reason why this team shouldn’t vault into the top 10 itself.

Up next, Oklahoma will travel to Lubbock to play Texas Tech on Monday, Feb. 1. This will be the second meeting between the Sooners and Red Raiders this season after OU lost the first contest in December, 69-67. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. CT on ESPN.

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