Slump continues for Sooners

By Michael Kinney

NORMAN– Oklahoma is in a funk. There is no simpler way to put it.

Entering Saturday’s rematch with Texas, the Sooners had dropped five of their last six games since beating Kansas Jan. 23. That included four straight defeats.

But if any team was going to rouse the Sooners out of their slumber, it would be the Longhorns, who had already knocked Oklahoma earlier in the month.

However, even the heat of Red River Rivalry wasn’t enough to shake loose the cobwebs as Oklahoma fell 77-66 to Texas Saturday at Lloyd Noble Center.

The loss is only the second defeat at home this season. However, both have come in their past two games in Norman.

“I think the crowd was ready to get into it but we didn’t give them enough reason,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “Same in the second half, we just couldn’t quite get the lead — down three, down one — we just couldn’t quite give them that reason to get it going a little more. The crowd certainly tried to do their part.”

The tailspin that has taken over the Sooners season has watched them go from one of the most exciting teams in the country to fans wondering if the team can hold on to what was a sure NCAA tournament bid.

Player of the year candidate Trae Young had a solid game by most players standards. But the 26 points (7 of 21), 5 rebounds and 7 assists are far below what has become expected of the freshman phenom.

“When you win a game in the Big 12, that’s big,” Young said. “Like I said, the toughest conference in America. I’m getting guarded like nobody else in the country is being guarded. Scouted on like no one else in the country is. It’s a mystery coming out each and every game, trying to figure out how a team is going to guard me and how I’m going to dictate how my team wins.”

Christian James scored 11 points and was the only other OU player to reach double figures in points.

The shooting woes that have plagued Oklahoma during their losing streak was once again their downfall against Texas. As a team they connected on 20 of 65 shots for a 30.8 clip. They also hit only eight of their 30-point attempts.

For whatever reason, the Sooners have turned into a poor shooting team and they haven’t found a way to break out of it.

“We didn’t make shots,” Kruger said. “When you don’t make shots, you don’t quite have the same energy defensively.”

Just like in their first encounter, the Longhorns inside presence had an immediate impact on the contest. Dylan Ostetkowski and Mohamed Bamba attacked the backboards on both ends of the court and out-muscled the Sooners.

But Oklahoma was its own worst enemy in the first half. Midway through the half they were shooting 19 percent from the field.

Despite that, Oklahoma only trailed 32-29 at halftime.

While the Sooners were shooting poor from the field, their one saving grace throughout was their ability to get to the free-throw line. For the game, OU made twice as many shots (18 to 9) from the free throws than Texas.

The Sooners never led in the first half. But in the second half, they had several opportunities to not only tie the game but grab their first lead.

However, bad shots, turnovers kept them from taking advantage of solid defense in the first eight minutes of the half.

The Longhorns extended their advantage to 55-44 with 9:30 left in the game. The Sooners were unable to make a serious threat the rest of the contest.

“It was a ballgame where I thought Texas had more pop from the start,” Kruger said. “I thought they dictated in the first half. We tried to make a little run there in the second half and couldn’t get over the hump. Seemed like we were fighting uphill all day.”

Oklahoma will look to end its five-game losing streak when they travel to Kansas for a big Monday matchup in Lawrence.

“It’s just a process. I mean, it’s a process,” Young said. “And right now, it’s tough. I know no one likes losing, especially us.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamthetruth.com

Signing day not just about sports

By Michael Kinney

Going to college was an important goal for Mustang’s Phillip Baker. But staying in and graduating was an even bigger objective for him.

“You don’t hear about a lot of Native Americans succeeding at that level,” Baker said. “It’s almost like a stereotype for Native Americans to get there and drop out. I don’t want to be one of those people. I want to be one of those people who go through a program and finish. Someone that young kids can look up to.”

Baker is a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Creek and Yuchi tribes. In 2015, only 67 percent of American Indian students graduated from high school compared the national average of 80 percent, according to usnews.com.

So last week when Baker was able to sign his National Letter of Intent to play football at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, he knew just how big the moment was.

“It is truly a blessing to me,” Baker said. I know how many people are able to play at the next level. That number is a lot smaller than those who play at the high school level. It’s just an honor to me and I feel like I can represent both the people from my culture and my family.”

According to Baker, he was sold on the new coaching staff and atmosphere at Southwestern. Also, the tight end will have the opportunity to play basketball for them as well, which was another huge selling point.

“I feel at home with them,” Baker said. “I feel pretty comfortable there. It’s a good way to help pay for my education and getting a degree is what’s really important to me. I feel like it’s the place where I need to be.”

Baker was one of eight Mustang Broncos who signed their NLI on signing day. They included two soccer players in Sarah Bryant (Oklahoma Baptist) and Nikki Lohr (Southern Nazarene), and six football players in Baker, Cooper Meadows (Southwestern College), Johnny Still (Northwestern State), Blake Russell (Central Oklahoma), Drew Rosko (Central Oklahoma and Carlos Thomas (Southern Nazarene).

For the Broncos to have six football players sign on to play in college is something coach Jeremy Dombeck didn’t just gloss over while introducing the players. The numbers show it is a special achievement.

“Less than five percent of high school football players have the opportunity to go on and play at the next level,” Dombeck said. “It is truly a special, special thing. We had 17 seniors and we’re signing six kids. Each of the guys had a huge impact on the program.”

Thomas was one of those players who had an impact on the program. But for one of the top tailbacks in the state, the program had a bigger impact on him.

“These four years at Mustang determined my path for the future,” Thomas said. “Growing up I was a bad kid. I didn’t think football would be a really big factor in my life. But once I came to Mustang, it really set me straight and I found a family and home in football. I believe if I didn’t come to Mustang, I wouldn’t be playing football or anything. I would probably be going down the wrong path just because of the environment I was in. I think God put me in this place for a reason and everything is working out how it is.”

Thomas is looking forward to continuing his football career at SNU, but also prepare for his future.

“I feel like it was a good fit for me. I really like the coaching staff,” Thomas said. “Just a good Christian environment for me. I kind of want to take the path of a pastor and being religiously associated with a college that’s going to help me with that route and on the right path to pursuing that career.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer for Eyeamtruth.com

Cavs restore order since blockbuster trade

(Photo by TorreyPurvey.com)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — The new look Cleveland Cavaliers rolled into Oklahoma City Tuesday night for a nationally televised game. It was an opportunity for the Thunder to continue their streak of having success against the best teams in the NBA.

With Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony back in the lineup after missing two games, Oklahoma City had to like its chances of knocking off the Cavs for the second time this season.

However, LeBron James was not having any of that. Surrounded by a new cast of characters, James led Cleveland to a 120-112 victory over the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“I thought, overall, it was a good game,” Anthony said. “Their guys shot the ball extremely well tonight. We competed for most of the game so we can take that away from it. [It] sucks losing on our home court, but the effort was there, the competitiveness was there. You got to take your hat off to those guys, they shot the ball extremely well tonight.”

James scored 37 points on 14 of 23 shooting. He also racked up to go along with 8 assists and 8 rebounds. The Thunder had no answer for him as he seemed to be playing with a new level of enthusiasm since the trade deadline brought him four new teammates.

“Well, I am the leader of this team and these guys look for me to lead them every night,” James said. “And the group that came in, they want me to be who I am. It’s up to me to go out and do it. That’s what I have been able to do.”

J.R. Smith hit six 3-pointers on his way to 19 points for Cleveland. Newly acquired Jordan Clarkston and Robert hood each scored 14 points while Larry Nance Jr. added 13 points, 9 rebounds and three blocked shots.

“It’s a change of scenery and they’re just trying to take advantage of it,” James said of his new teammates. “For the guys that were here, we’re just trying to make them as comfortable as possible. Make the transition as seamless as possible.”

Paul George led the Thunder with 25 points and six assists. Anthony added 24 points and seven rebounds. While Westbrook looked rusty from his two-game absence, he still posted 21 points and 12 assists.

However, it was Steven Adams who carried the team earlier and was their leading scorer through three quarters. He finished with 22 points and 17 rebounds in 42 minutes of action.

“[I’m] proud of that guy, man. He just keeps getting better,” Josh Huestis said. “I think a lot of people forget how young he is and how much better he is going to keep getting. He is a monster down there. I am proud of him.”

The Thunder got only 20 points from their bench as Jerami Grant and Raymond Felton were the only reserves to score.

“I’m going to have to go look at the film,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “Obviously, every time coming down the floor we want to get the best available shot, the best possession. When Carmelo, Russell, Paul and Steven have their opportunities, I want them to take them. I thought we tried to move the ball.”

For Cleveland, the balance of power in the east seems to have been restored since the trade. They head into the All-Star break feeling good about themselves, which was something they weren’t doing a week ago.

“Koby (Altman) did a heck of a job understanding what this team needed,” James said. “It just wasn’t working out for us. He made the changes he felt best fit our team. Then it’s on me to make sure the new guys that come in, that they fit in and make it as seamless as possible. That’s my job. This is the third game in a row my voice is gone. So I am just trying to have communication at an all-time high for us.”

Coach Tyronn Lue had a more simple explanation of Cleveland’s turnaround.

“I think we have to get back to being the hunters, not the hunted,” Lue said.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

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