One-dimensional Oklahoma needs to get Trae Young some more help

The Dagger
Oklahoma guard Trae Young left, keeps the ball from Oklahoma State guard Tavarius Shine, center, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Oklahoma guard Trae Young left, keeps the ball from Oklahoma State guard Tavarius Shine, center, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma’s over-reliance on Trae Young came back to haunt it in the dying seconds of its 83-81 overtime loss at rival Okahoma State on Saturday afternoon.

When the Cowboys wisely face-guarded Young with two defenders on the game’s final possession, the fourth-ranked Sooners force fed the ball to their star anyway because they didn’t trust anyone else to create a shot with the game on the line.

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The two extra passes it took to get Young the ball wasted some of the 7.4 seconds Oklahoma had to advance the ball out of the backcourt and run a play to generate a clean look. Young only had time to weave his way through a sea of defenders and hoist a heavily contested 30 footer at the buzzer that did not come close to drawing iron.

You can argue that Young should have looked for one of his teammates open on the other side of the floor, but it was such a desperate situation by the time he got the ball that it was hard to fault him for not making a cross-court pass through traffic. The bigger issue was Oklahoma appeared to have no secondary plan if Oklahoma State threw multiple defenders at Young.

The final play was a perfect microcosm of Oklahoma’s season so far. For better or worse, the Sooners are a one-dimensional team that goes as Young goes, a style of play that makes them both wildly entertaining and incredibly predictable.

As Young emerged as college basketball’s most dangerous player earlier this season with an array of slick passes, deft finishes and impossibly deep 3-pointers, his performance elevated Oklahoma from a lower-echelon Big 12 team last year into the AP top 10. Not only did Young lead the nation in scoring and assists, he achieved that with impressive efficiency.

Scouting reports on Young have improved as Big 12 play has begun and his efficiency has begun to decline as a result. The 6-foot-2 freshman is taking more shots per game since Big 12 play began, yet shooting only 39.5 percent from the field and turning the ball over 7.6 times per game as opposing defenses have face-guarded him, trapped ball screens and generally done everything in their power to make someone else beat them.

In a loss at Kansas State last Tuesday, Young needed 21 shots to score 20 points and committed a Big 12 record dozen turnovers. The active, aggressive Wildcats blitzed every ball screen, and Young often did not make the right read out of it.

Oklahoma State was neither as determined or as effective keeping the ball out of Young’s hands, and he appeared to enjoy the unusual freedom. He shot a season-high 39 times, going 6-for-19 inside the arc, 8-for-20 behind it and 12 of 12 at the free throw line.

There were times when Young tried to do too much in the first half as Oklahoma fell behind 25-6 and appeared to be in jeopardy of getting run out of Stillwater. There were times when Young was almost unstoppable as he found his rhythm in the second half and willed the Sooners back into the lead with a flurry of step-back threes and forays to the rim. He also made the biggest defensive gaffe of the game, getting caught flat-footed and then flailing at Kendall Smith as the Oklahoma State guard blew by him in the open floor and knocked down a 3-pointer to force overtime on the Cowboys’ final possession of regulation.

The clear takeaway from Saturday’s loss is that Oklahoma cannot be this reliant on Young if it still hopes to contend in the Big 12. He can still be the Sooners’ engine and catalyst, but they must have others emerge as shot creators when opponents focus their defense on getting the ball out of Young’s hands.

The trouble is that Oklahoma doesn’t have an obvious solution to that problem. Every other Sooner combined to score 33 points on 14 of 43 shooting against Oklahoma State with only three assists.

Brady Manek and Christian James are primarily spot-up shooters who have benefited from the attention defenses pay to Young. Khadeem Lattin and Jamuni McNeace are big men who finish above the rim but seldom create for themselves. Kameron McGusty has potential as a slasher and Jordan Shepherd is a capable ball handler, but neither have distinguished themselves as of yet.

Despite those roster limitations, Oklahoma must find a way to become more balanced.

Thirty-nine shots for Young is not a winning formula against a defense designed to make things tough for him. The Sooners need to get him more help.

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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