By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Monday night started out very quiet for Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield. He missed his first two shots and his team was struggling against North Texas.
It didn’t last long. Hield scored a career-high 23 points — all of them coming in the game’s final 28 minutes — to lead the Sooners to a 95-82 victory over the Mean Green at Lloyd Noble Center.
It was the second straight game Hield has led the Sooners in scoring and more validation the sophomore guard is ready to take a major leap in his second year of college basketball.
“Coaches are always telling me to be aggressive and my teammates are always telling me to be aggressive and keep attacking,” Hield said.
He connected on 7-of-14 attempts from the field and was 3 for 4 from the 3-point range. He hit two driving layups and a 3-pointer during an 18-11 run late in the first half that helped the Sooners claim a 42-28 lead.
It was the kind of game Hield should thrive in. Neither team spent much time in the half-court offense. OU was only credited with 13 fast-break points, but both teams were running from the opening tip.
The points were the most OU (2-0) has scored since the 2009-10 season opener.
Hield was far from the only player to get in the scoring act. Je’lon Hornbeak, Ryan Spangler and Cameron Clark all finished with 11 points apiece.
The unexpected surprise came from senior forward Tyler Neal. He came off the bench to score 12 points and set a career-high with eight rebounds. He played 22 minutes due to Clark dealing with foul trouble most of the game. But it was the most points he scored since his sophomore season.
“I’ve known I could do these things for a while. I just need to step up and do it,” Neal said. “I know my teammates my believe in me. Tonight, they found me in positions to score.”
Eight of Neal’s points came on layups, which was the trend of the night. OU, which was outsized Monday and will be in most of its games this season, outscored North Texas 45-38 in the paint.
The Mean Green (1-1) couldn’t keep OU’s guards out of the paint. Jordan Woodard, Isaiah Cousins and Hornbeak combined for 13 assists.
The Sooners shot 52.9 percent (36 for 68) and were 8 for 18 from 3-point range.
Alzee Williams led North Texas with a game-high 24 points. Chris Jones added 16 points and Keith Coleman added 14 points to go along with 10 rebounds.
The Mean Green shot 44.8 percent (30 for 67) and were also 8 for 18 beyond the arc.
The Sooners never got control of the game until the final 10 minutes. Their lead was down to four points with a little over 10 minutes left, but Hield scored five points in a 40-second stretch to help OU pull away. The Sooners’ lead never dipped under double digits in the final seven minutes.
Through the first two games, it’s been a case of the Sooners feeding off Hield.
“He has all the ingredients, starting with energy, enthusiasm, passion, being sincere about teammates and doing whatever he can to help his team,” OU coach Lon Kruger said about Hield. “… Buddy does a lot of things well and most importantly he will work at it.”
Through two games, Hield is averaging 21.0 points per game and showing all signs he can be a dominant player. And he’s not afraid to attack.
“He’s obviously going to need to be one of our top scorers and we know he can do that,” Neal said. “We want him taking those shots and getting out in transition and attacking the rim like he was.”
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