By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — In one sense Oklahoma closed exhibition play by playing solid basketball in its 88-76 victory over Oklahoma Christian Monday night at McCasland Field House. In another, before finding their game, the Sooners proved just how challenged they can be less than a week away from their season opener.
It’s all in how you look at it.
“The first half Oklahoma Christian did a terrific job … They controlled the pace and the tempo and we didn’t to do much to affect that very much,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “We came out with better energy and activity in the second and dictated more in the second half.”
The difference was obvious in the opening minutes of the second half, before which the Sooners had been outplayed from the beginning.
Willie Harper, who led the Eagles with 24 points, scored 16 before intermission with the last bucket coming on a 3-pointer as the horn sounded to build a 41-38 Eagle lead.
The Sooners returned a different team. They began the second half with an immediate 17-6 run, capped by back-to-back 3-pointers by Hield.
Hield led OU with 29 points and point guard Jordan Woodard added 17 to go with six assists. Je’lon Hornbeak added 12 and Ryan Spangler tossed in 11 to go along with a game-high seven rebounds.
Lack of rebounds hurt the Sooners in the first half. Oklahoma Christian actually led OU on the boards after 20 minutes despite not having a single starter taller than 6-6.
“We have to pick it up quicker. We can’t wait until the second half,” Hield said. “We started off sluggish.”
The Sooners shot 50 percent (31 of 62) and were 11 of 25 from 3-point land. Hield and Woodard did the brunt of their damage from behind the arc, combining to hit 8 of 12.
In two exhibition games, the Sooners have shot 52.7 percent from the field. A troubling issue that surfaced Monday was Cameron Clark, who scored 23 points in the exhibition opener Saturday against Washburn, but had only six Monday.
Kruger said that was partly by design.
“We played a pretty long bench in that first half and Cam didn’t play a lot of minutes,” he said. “Cam, he’ll be a really consistent guy for us … Cam will be fine.”
Above all, the Sooners got a good test from the Golden Eagles. Nate Tate added 18 points and Kendre Talley added 16. Oklahoma Christian’s grab bag of zone defenses put the Sooners on their heels early.
OU didn’t really begin to pull away until it started getting turnovers. Nine of Oklahoma Christian’s 12 turnovers came in the second half.
“We struggled hitting shots in the first half, but I feel like we did a pretty good job of executing in the second half,” Woodard said.
The Sooners were slightly short-handed. Sophomore guard Isaiah Cousins didn’t play due to an ankle sprain he suffered in Saturday’s exhibition game. Freshman guard Frank Booker was held out due to a one-game suspension.
Both are expected to play when the Sooners open the season at 4 p.m. Friday against Alabama at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
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