OU men's basketball: Jacob Groves bringing confidence, energy to increased role

·4 min read

Jan. 29—There's been a popular phrase used around the Oklahoma men's basketball program in recent days.

"Chopping wood."

Sooners' coach Porter Moser originally used it after their 72-62 victory at West Virginia Wednesday to discuss inserting Jacob Groves into the starting lineup for the first time this season.

"Jacob's just been chopping wood, chopping wood," Moser said. "He came in that Baylor game [last Saturday] and did some nice things.

"[He brought] just a confident energy," Moser said Friday. "Just embraced a lot of the little things we're trying to do, just had a confident energy. We felt in practice he was scoring a little bit better and making some shots to fall. We just tried to shake some things up, bring some energy in, and he did that. He's been making shots in practice. I think his length, it's contagious, his energy. That's what we were looking for."

The switch worked. Groves scored a season-high 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including two 3-pointers, and added four rebounds in a season-high 26 minutes.

The phrase hasn't been limited to just Moser. During the team's media availability Friday, Groves' used it to describe his mindset when he learned he'd be starting against the Mountaineers.

"I had heard a word a little earlier in the week that maybe there was some talk about doing that, but nothing was for sure yet," Groves said. "My mantra has always been to keep chopping wood and keep doing what's gotten me here, so that was pretty much it. I heard about it, and obviously that kind of excites you, but there are some nerves that go along with that.

"Once the game started, everything just comes. It happened naturally."

Groves' insertion into the starting lineup relegated Elijah Harkless to the bench. Harkless, who had started all 19 games heading into West Virginia, played just four minutes against the Mountaineers.

While Moser didn't say if the starting lineup change would be permanent, both he and Groves emphasized that the team will need Harkless as the season continues.

"We're still really going to need him down the stretch in Big 12 basketball because he's such a good asset to this team," Groves said. "I don't know how he's taking it. I know Coach (Moser) has had some conversations with him about that, and he seems pretty understanding. From my perspective at least, it's been going good. We're just going to keep pushing on and try to win games.

"Whether it's coming off the bench or starting, I'm just doing whatever I can to help my team win."

Groves isn't the only one to see a bigger role. Redshirt senior Marvin Jones only played in seven of the team's first 18 games, but he saw more playing time against Baylor and West Virginia.

Against the Mountaineers, he played a season high 21 minutes and finished six points, four rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal.

"Same thing with Marvin. Marvin's been chopping wood," Moser said. "He's missed time here and there out of practice for various reasons. He's building trust on doing a lot of the little things. He brings an energy. He has such athleticism. He got that into the game [against West Virginia], and I thought that boost helped us in that victory."

The team needs Groves and Johnson to continue giving the team a spark on Saturday.

The Sooners (13-7) will face arguably their toughest test yet, traveling to take on No. 1-ranked Auburn for the SEC/Big 12 challenge. The Tigers (19-1) haven't lost since their double-overtime thriller with Connecticut back in November.

Though they didn't say it exactly, it's another opportunity for the Sooners to continue chopping wood.

"Obviously, we kind of embrace it," Groves said. "Our team loves the big crowd. Coach [Moser] always says the loudest crowd means the quietest crickets after the game because that's what we want to hear after the game when we beat them. We feed a lot off of that.

"We've been good all year with that stuff. We're excited for another opportunity and just excited to play in that environment."

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580