Trae Young Wasn’t Oklahoma’s Problem on Saturday

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 23rd, 2018

As the final horn sounded on Oklahoma’s 83-81 overtime loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday afternoon, the takes started flying nearly as frequently as Trae Young‘s three-pointers. The freshman phenom is too selfish. He doesn’t get his teammates involved. He turns the ball over too much. But as usually tends to be the case with instant reactions based on limited observation, most of the comments about the spectacular point guard were silly. While Young’s record-breaking afternoon — 48 points on 14-of-39 shooting and eight assists — wasn’t perfect, a closer inspection of the most common criticisms of his game renders them flat.

Trae Young drew more ire than he deserved following Oklahoma’s loss to Oklahoma State.
(Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman)

Young clearly struggled to get in a groove in the first half as the Cowboys made a priority of containing him, but it was clear early that Brady Manek and Christian James, the freshman guard’s two most reliable supporting cast members, might not have it either. In allowing Oklahoma State to jump out to an early 25-6 lead, the pair struggled to shoot a combined 1-of-6 from distance and failed to attack the Cowboys’ closeouts to find better looks.

As the Sooners went to work on a 12-point halftime deficit, Young realized that he was unlikely to get much more help. As a result, he did what most elite players do in that situation — he put on his blinders and tried to carry his team to a rivalry game victory. It nearly worked, as his offensive performance in the second half was flat-out remarkable. He gave the ball away just three times over the final 25 minutes (versus seven miscues in the first half) while scoring 34 points on 24 shots with a stellar 61.8 percent true shooting percentage, slightly above his season mark of 60.8 percent. By contrast, Young’s teammates shot a paltry 8-of-25 from the field after the break, and the takeaway was that Young should have been the one shooting less frequently?

The freshman’s afternoon wasn’t perfect, of course. He certainly could have played better defense on the crucial late possession that led to Kendall Smith‘s game-tying three-pointer. Additionally, his subpar first half counts just as much in the result as his fantastic second half. But on a day when none of his teammates brought their offense with them to Stillwater, it’s tough to fault Young for taking matters into his own hands. Manek, James and Kameron McGusty — all shooting better than 40 percent from distance in Big 12 play — will have better nights, but Saturday just wasn’t their day.

If there are bones to pick with the Sooners, it is that they don’t have enough players other than Young who are capable of creating their own shots, and that, given their overall depth, size and athleticism, their defense should be better than it is. Those factors will certainly limit Oklahoma’s ultimate ability to maximize its seeding and make a run in March, but if your takeaway from last weekend’s game is that Young is the guy holding the Sooners back, well, I can’t help you.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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