NORMAN — There was a subtle nudge given to senior forward Tyler Neal prior to Oklahoma’s game against Texas A&M. Through the first 11 games, he’d been effective at exploiting bigger defenders by drawing them out to the perimeter.
Sooner coach Lon Kruger came up with a different challenge for Neal against the Aggies.
“I enjoy posting up, too, using craftiness and pump fakes,” Neal said. “Talking to coach today, he was trying to get that a little more for us.”
In other words, try to play a little more like a low-post player in the Sooners’ last meeting with a team from a major league prior to the start of Big 12 Conference play beginning Saturday at Texas.
Neal’s response: a career-high 10 rebounds to go along with eight points off the bench in the 64-52 victory over the Aggies.
The game was not the final tuneup before conference play begins. The Sooners (11-1) face Louisiana Tech (10-3) at 7 p.m. today at Lloyd Noble Center.
One last chance for everyone to gain a foothold on what they’re comfortable with before the rigors of January begin. Getting Neal to expand his comfort level will have an effect on the Sooners’ season.
He has the potential to be a true sixth man because of his ability to fill multiple roles.
“Tyler is so versatile and he can play so many different positions,” Kruger said. “We need to get the ball to him a little more in the post than what we have. We haven’t done it much to this point, but I think he can do more things in the post than what he’s shown in games. I think it’s there.”
Low-post scoring is essential for NCAA tournament teams. Relying on jump shots is a feast-or-famine proposition. Big wins can come on nights those jumpers fall. Ugly losses are the flip-side of that coin.
Getting more comfortable in the paint adds to Kruger’s ability to mix and match. He’s already shown the last two seasons he can play on the perimeter. Through the first 12 games, Neal is shooting 45 percent (9 for 20) from 3-point range.
Rebounding and drawing fouls on those bigger defenders requires mixing it up in the paint. The effort against Texas A&M showed he’s capable.
“Since I’ve been here we haven’t had huge teams, so we’re gonna have to have guys who can step up and exploit mismatches,” Neal said.
If that one game snowballs, Kruger has more options for how to mix and match in the season. Neal’s growing inventory of abilities makes it possible.
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