NORMAN — Oklahoma’s Cameron Clark has played like a senior this season. The experience has made him one of the 25th-ranked Sooners’ pillars.
But he experienced something completely new in Tuesday’s 72-66 loss at Kansas State. He was targeted from the opening tip by the Wildcats. They were not going to let him get into an offensive rhythm. He was double-teamed anytime he caught a pass within 15 feet of the basket. A Wildcat was in his chest anytime he had the ball within 25 feet of the goal.
The result was a two-point effort on 1-of-9 shooting from the field.
“No. 1 scorer in the Big 12, you’re going to have that. I’m not really worried about the scoring,” Clark said. “I didn’t do what I needed to do personally. I feel like I could’ve helped my team out more on the defensive end, just rebounding. I’ve got to work on more things if my shot’s not falling.”
That can be said for just about all of OU’s roster. Outside of Ryan Spangler, who scored 21 points and pulled down 14 rebounds, there wasn’t really a standout. The next best were freshman guard Frank Booker and senior forward Tyler Neal. They combined for 16 points off the bench and made four of OU’s seven 3-pointers.
Buddy Hield scored 12 points, but was held scoreless in the second half. Isaiah Cousins scored seven points. Jordan Woodard was limited to five and spent most of the second half on the bench. Kruger decided backup point guard Je’lon Hornbeak was a better option in the final minutes.
But none of those players are seniors. Clark believes how he plays sets the tone for the rest and there’s nothing to dispute that notion.
If he’s not scoring, he has to find other ways to positively impact the game. The six rebounds in 23 minutes coupled with two assists, two turnovers a blocked shot and a steal were not enough.
Kruger isn’t concerned with Clark’s play or demeanor.
“Cam’s just gotta let it go. It’s Big 12 play. People are going to point to him and target him. He’s just got to stay aggressive,” he said. “I thought he turned down some shots early to try to get closer. Those are shots he shoots really well. We need him to stay aggressive. It’s confidence as much as anything right now. He’ll bounce back.”
Because a hot Clark does make OU a different team. He’s more than OU’s leading scorer; Clark is its most exciting player. There’s an energy that it receives when he’s scoring well. The entire roster seems to plug into his confidence.
But Clark is wise enough to know shots won’t fall every night. That can’t be the only way he can help OU win.
The Sooners had Wednesday off. They’ll return to practice Thursday and begin preparing for Saturday’s meeting at No. 12 Baylor. It’s the final game in a brutal five-game run to open the conference slate in which OU has played four teams that were ranked at the start of conference. They’ve split the first four. Finishing the gauntlet over .500 could very keep the Sooners in the AP Top 25 for a second straight week.
The Sooners need that energy from Clark to do it. Tuesday was a bad night. He’s ready to move on.
“Credit K-State. They’re a great defensive club and got after us,” he said. “We’ve just got to get back to the drawing board and get better.”
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