By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — There’s been one player Oklahoma has been waiting to emerge from his cocoon and he finally did in Thursday’s victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
Backup center D.J. Bennett had nine points, and more importantly, five blocked shots in the victory. The performance was a shot in the arm for the Sooners (7-1).
“I thought today we saw a little of that bounce and that explosiveness and he was more engaged, especially on the defensive end,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “He finished a couple of good plays offensively. It’s good to see that. As he has gotten healthier and spent more time and investing more time that will only quicken the recovery.”
Bennett, who redshirted last season as a junior college transfer, is a big part of the Sooners’ plans this season. Forward Ryan Spangler has significantly upgraded their low-post play, but Bennett adds an element they have missed for years.
The 6-foot-8 Bennett has a wing span that allows him to play like a 7-footer. The Sooners need that shot-blocking ability.
“Just having a presence and knowing you have help back there. Shot blocking, we are going to get blocked shots,” OU guard Buddy Hield said. “We are going to run out and make plays for our teammates. It’s good for a defensive team.”
The Sooners hope to be more of one when they face George Mason (5-3) at noon today at the Verizon Center in Washington.
Shot blockers are in high demand in college basketball. The tighter enforcement of hand checking has made it easier for guards to get in the lane.
“Having a shot blocker behind you takes on a greater significance more and more each year. That’s going to become even more obvious,” Kruger said. “If you have a guy back there that can block shots and change shots it’s really important. That’s why we need D.J. to keep progressing and keep getting more comfortable.”
Bennett might have been at the point much earlier if it hadn’t been for a preseason foot injury. He played well on both ends of the floor during its exhibition trip to Europe in August, but the injury occurred soon after preseason practice started in September. It put him on the shelf until the regular season began and about six weeks behind.
His points and blocked shots Thursday were both career highs, but even Bennett doesn’t know where to set the bar.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Bennett said. “I am just going to keep working. I’m just going to keep working to be the best I can be and try to get better every day.”
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