Porter Moser may bristle at the notion, but OU doesn’t have a Max Abmas

Porter Moser may bristle at the notion, but OU doesn’t have a Max Abmas

The former Oral Roberts star shined on Tuesday in a 22-point performance that highlighted a potential structural flaw in the 11th-ranked Sooners.

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Jan 24, 2024, 7:32am CST

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Jan 24, 2024, 7:32am CST

NORMAN — Porter Moser carried with him 40 minutes worth of frustration in the aftermath of his fifth loss to Texas in five tries. 

Yet it was only when Oklahoma’s men’s basketball coach was asked if he believed the 11th-ranked Sooners lacked a true No. 1 option that his emotions truly bared their teeth.

“I’m not going to panic,” Moser said Tuesday night after OU’s 75-60 loss to Texas. “We had three losses before this, two losses to teams in the top five and TCU who was in the top 25. I’m not going to say we don’t have a go-to guy.

“We have guys who have been stepping up all year. You don’t get to be where we’re at without having guys. I’m not throwing any of those guys under the bus.”

Moser is right. His current rotation includes 14.6-point-per-game scorer Javian McCollum and a 54.5% shooter in Otega Oweh. In Milos Uzan, the Sooners backcourt includes a bonafide NBA prospect. Jalon Moore, who dropped 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting, showed off his big game mettle once again Tuesday. 

Moser has plenty of go-to guys. He just doesn’t have a Max Abmas. 

That may not sink the Sooners between now and mid-March. It might not keep OU from reaching the NCAA Tournament. But the reality was glaring as Texas’ star guard took the air out of Lloyd Noble Center in the Longhorns’ final Big 12 trip to Norman.

Abmas finished with a game-high 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting and added four rebounds and three assists to help down the Sooners (15-4, 3-3 Big 12). His four 3-pointers on eight attempts accounted for half of Texas’ makes from deep. When the former Oral Roberts guard was on the floor, the Longhorns outscored OU by 21.

“He makes shots,” Moser said of Abmas. 

“He draws so much attention,” Moser continued. “It’s hard to help and it gets your help defense going with him. Tremendous player. Super efficient.”

Abmas wasn’t the only reason OU dropped back to .500 in league play. The Sooners hampered themselves by shooting a season-low 39.3%, logging just two scorers in double figures and totaling six points over the final 11:01 in the loss that dropped Moser to 1-9 against Texas and Oklahoma State and upped the stakes on Saturday’s visit from No. 20 Texas Tech (1 p.m., ESPN+). 

However, it was Abmas who led the charge to quiet the booming crowd in Norman. Once the star of Oral Roberts’ 2021 Cinderella run to the Sweet Sixteen, Abmas got to play spoiler again in front of 11,092 Tuesday night. 

“I love it,” said Abmas, the Big 12’s third-leading scorer at 17.7 points per game. “I kind of live for those moments (with) the work that I put in — really the whole team. It was a big-time team effort. Big-time team energy.”

Moore pulled the Sooners out of an early, 18-9 hole with back-to-back slams that brought OU’s largest home crowd of the 2023-24 season to a roar. Those dunks prompted a 14-2 run that helped the Sooners lead by as many as six before halftime and sent Moser and Co. to halftime leading, 33-32.

OU’s advantage lasted little more than two minutes into the second half and the energy leaked from the arena while Texas (14-5, 3-3) outscored the hosts 43-27 and ran away in the final 20 minutes.

“I apologize to Sooner Nation,” Moser said. “I’ve been working to get this crowd like this. They were great. We didn’t win. We’ll bounce back from this.”

With help from forward Dylan Disu (19 points, 10 rebounds), it was Abmas who powered the Longhorns’ second-half storm. Texas never trailed again after he contributed six points to a 13-2 run early in the second half. All told, Abmas scored 14 of his 22 points after halftime, flourished by the 30-foot, 3-pointer he knocked down over Sooners guard Rivlado Soares. 

Abmas spent the first four seasons of his college career in Oklahoma becoming one of the nation’s most effective scorers. At Texas, the reigning Summit League Player of the Year has settled smoothly into life in the Big 12.

“It’s a gauntlet,” Abmas said. “Night in and night out. You got to bring your “A” game every night.”

The Longhorns have a rangy, difficult-to-guard scorer capable of carrying them through that gauntlet. Does OU?

Oweh is shooting 33.3% from the field through six league games. Uzan has failed to reach douple figures in each of the last three contests. McCollum’s nine points in the loss to Texas dipped his per-game scoring average in the conference to 12.0.

Indicative of the Sooners’ collective offensive woes: OU shot 4-of-17 in the initial 10 minutes against the Longhorns and closed 3-of-15 over the final 10 minutes Tuesday night, accounting for a 21.8% shooting clip for half of the game.  

I’m not going to say to my guys we don’t have a guy who can do it,” Moser asserted. “They’ve been doing it all year. Javian McCollum is an outstanding guard. Milos Uzan is an outstanding guard. I’m not going to sit here after a tough loss and say we don’t have the guys. We do.”

Moser is right again. Sort of.

The Sooners have go-to options that have gotten them to this point. Until shown otherwise, they just don’t appear to have a Max Abmas — the kind of proven scorer that can buoy OU in the high-level Big 12 contests that lie ahead.

Some nights, like Tuesday, that’s going to catch up to the Sooners in the nation’s toughest conference.

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Eli Lederman reports on the University of Oklahoma for Sellout Crowd. He began his professional career covering the University of Missouri with the Columbia Missourian and later worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before two years writing on the Sooners and Cowboys at the Tulsa World. Born and raised in Mamaroneck, New York, Lederman grew up a rabid consumer of the New York sports pages and an avid fan of the New York Mets. He entered sportswriting at 14 years old and later graduated from the University of Missouri. Away from the keyboard, he can usually be found exploring the Oklahoma City food scene or watching/playing fútbol (read: soccer). He can be reached at [email protected].

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