With 4:26 left in the second half, Ole Miss led Oklahoma 55-52.
The Rebels never scored again. The Sooners ended the game on a 7-0 run to beat the Rebels 59-52 in the championship of the ESPN Events Invitational on Sunday in Orlando, Florida.
The Sooners defeated Nebraska and Seton Hall to secure a spot in the finals before defeating Ole Miss in the championship game. The three wins improve the Sooners’ record to 6-1 on the season.
The OU locker room made sure to give head coach Porter Moser an ice bath following the win over the Rebels.
“I’ve said this before on celebrations: I think they need to make a rule that they have to keep warm water in the locker room,” OU coach Porter Moser joked to reporters after the win. “I mean the cold ice water is just a little bit too cold, man. I was losing my breath. But it never gets old. It never gets old to see the excitement on their face. Not for me.
“It’s the excitement on their face to win a championship. Because you’re going to reference that back at some point of that feeling, how it felt. How hard they had to work and prepare at the hotel. There’s so much that goes into winning behind the scenes in a tournament setting to win and advance and these guys locked in for these last four days and I was happy for them to have this moment.”
Here’s three takeaways from the Sooners’ early-season tournament championship in Florida:
1. Grant Sherf
ield leads the Sooners, wins tournament MVP
The transfer point guard established himself as the team’s engine prior to the tournament.
That continued in Orlando.
Sherfield recorded 10 points and eight assists in the Sooners’ 69-56 win over the Cornhuskers, then finished with a season-high 25 points in the 77-64 win over Seton Hall.
Ole Miss really keyed in on Sherfield in the championship game, but that didn’t stop him from finishing with a team-high 12 points and five assists.
Sherfield led the Sooners in both total points (47) and assists (16) for the tournament and was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
“Some nice stuff from Grant for three days,” Moser said. “He leads us in assists, he leads us in scoring and I thought tonight there were like three or four defensive plays that he made and that really excites me. So I thought all around there was no question that he was the MVP of these three games.”
For Sherfield, it’s about using the tournament to build momentum.
“We’re going to relish it for today,” Sherfield said. “We’re going to live in the moment, for sure. We’ve just got to put it in the bank and keep trying to stack wins.”
2. Bijan Cortes, Sam Godwin provide spark of
f the bench
The Sooners may not have defeated Ole Miss without two critical bench players.
Cortes played a huge role leading the Sooners’ offense, playing a season-high 23 minutes while being in the crunch-time lineup. He finished with a season-high 10 points to go with three rebounds, two assists and four steals.
Godwin, a Southmoore alum, has been a reliable player off the bench this season and came up big against the Rebels, finishing with 11 points and six rebounds.
“Everyone just bought into it,” Cortes said. “Like [Sherfield] said, always be ready for your time. That’s what I did. I think the way we won this tournament was… we prepared well, always locked in. I liked how we did that.”
Cortes, who served as the team’s backup point guard last season, didn’t play much prior to the tournament. But he was a pivotal piece off the bench in Florida, averaging 6.3 points and 1.6 assists off the bench.
3. Sooners’ defense leads the way
The OU offense was firing on cylinders, shooting better than 50 percent from the floor in all three games. But it was their defense that made the difference.
In addition to holding the Rebels scoreless over the final four minutes, the Sooners also held all three of their opponents to under 46 percent shooting.
While the offense has had its moments this season, the Sooners are quickly developing a defense-first mindset.
“What I was really pleased [with] is how we finished off games defending,” Moser said. “You look at from two weeks ago to playing these close games, [we’re winning by] holding teams really to a low amount of field goals down in the last 4-5 minutes. and I thought that was a huge key to knowing how to win games. and it isn’t all about making your shot. You can’t let your shot dictate your defense. You’ve got to defend and rebound.”
The Sooners hit the road to play Villanova at 11:30 a.m. Saturday for the Big East/Big 12 Battle.