By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Oklahoma basketball coach Lon Kruger could have gone with the veterans, subbed in the newcomers and presented a bit more fluid version of his team.
The Sooners didn’t struggle near enough to flirt with a loss in Friday night’s exhibition opener against Division II Washburn. But they had a heck of a time maintaining a double-digit lead until pulling away late for an 83-66 victory.
“We’ve got a lot of things to work on, and the good thing about this group is I know they will invest in the work,” Kruger said. “I like our depth. Hopefully, we’ll continue to be able to play a lot of people.”
That was what stuck out Friday night. How many Sooners saw the floor, and the order in which they saw it.
Kruger’s first five included returning starters Steven Pledger and Romero Osby and a trio of newcomers: junior forward Amath M’Baye and freshmen guards Je’lon Hornbeak and Isiah Cousins.
An odd bright spot, none of them led OU in scoring. That honor went to freshman guard Buddy Hield, who finished with 16 points, five rebounds, no assists and three turnovers. A little sloppy, perhaps, but he made things happen. He also hit 3 of 4 3-point attempts.
“I’m just trying to get ready and be ready every game,” Heild said.
After Heild, M’Baye, the preseason Big 12 newcomer of the year, added 14 points and six rebounds, Osby finished with eight points and six rebounds and Cousins, who also hit 3 of 4 3-point tries, contributed nine points.
“I think I was a little rusty,” said M’Baye, who made 4 of 8 shots and 6 of 8 free throws. “It is probably going to take me a little bit to get in my rhythm.”
That might go for everybody who saw the court.
“I think this group will come along quickly,” said Kruger, who also said that he expects to play many different lineups. “I think having a game under our belt and film to break down is good … I’d be surprised if they don’t handle the ball a lot better next Wednesday (against Central Oklahoma.).”
That sloppiness was the Sooners’ biggest problem. They committed 21 turnovers against just 11 assists. It was the reason they scored 83 points instead of easily surpassing the century mark.
Still, there were good stretches that appeared to display the potential of a team with several returning players, but also a very new look.
OU led just 19-14 8:37 before the half, but turned that into a 40-28 lead by the half, getting their last four baskets before the break from four different sources: Osby, M’Baye, Pledger and Cousins.
Washburn got as close as six points in the second half, but the lead was up to 21 when Andrew Fitzgerald knocked down a jumper with 5:27 to play.
The Sooners weren’t so sharp, but it seemed to be a reasonable showcase of better times ahead.
“I thought they worked hard,” Kruger said. “I think you have to have that activity and channel it a little bit more productively and more intelligently.”
Of course, that’s what exhibition games are for.
Clay HorningFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org
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