MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

OU & OSU Sports

December 16, 2012

Bench strength: Sooners’ subs tally 33 points in Oklahoma’s 64-54 win over former Big 12 rival

— OKLAHOMA CITY – To have three starters go an entire game without making a field goal would have been almost impossible for Oklahoma to overcome during Lon Kruger’s first season as head coach.

Given a chance to reload his roster, Kruger’s Sooners are better equipped to handle it now.

Romero Osby scored 19 points, Cameron Clark added a season-high 17 points off the bench and Oklahoma beat former Big 12 rival Texas A&M 64-54 on Saturday in the All-College Classic.

Starters Amath M’Baye and Isaiah Cousins each failed to score and Je’lon Hornbeak got his only two points on free throws, but the Sooners (7-2) still won comfortably.

“It’s nice to have guys coming off the bench and playing well when you’ve got three starters not getting any field goals,” Kruger said. “That’s kind of been the nature of this group to this point: different guys coming off the bench and picking us up.”

Oklahoma had a 33-13 advantage in bench scoring. Freshman reserve Buddy Hield chipped in 12 points, with 10 of them coming during a 12-4 run during the first half. The Sooners wouldn’t trail again after that.

Clark scored from the left block and then finished off a fast break with a finger roll to send Oklahoma (7-2) on a decisive 15-3 run midway through the second half. Osby finished it off with a two-handed dunk off of Steven Pledger’s alley-oop to give the Sooners a 56-44 edge with 6:18 remaining.

The Aggies (7-2) had just scored six straight points to tie it at 41 on a left-handed runner by J’Mychal Reese. Clark had a pair of steals, the Aggies had an over-and-back violation coming out of a timeout, and Alex Caruso sailed a bad pass out of bounds.

Another turnover – this time on a steal by Pledger – set up Osby’s dunk to finish the big run.

“I thought Oklahoma did a good job with their defensive pressure, speeding our guards up, and we did a poor job of sharing the ball and taking care of the ball,” Aggies coach Billy Kennedy said. “We had 19 turnovers, and I think that was the difference in the game.”

Elston Turner led Texas A&M with 17 points and Ray Turner scored 12. The Aggies’ 19 turnovers matched their season worst from their only other loss, against Saint Louis. They turned it over on four of five possessions after forging the 41-all tie.

“I thought our activity defensively during a stretch there in the second half was really a key, and converting some turnovers into transition going the other way was probably what made the margin there,” Kruger said.

The Sooners scored 20 points off Texas A&M’s turnovers and already have five wins away from home this season after going just 4-11 outside of Norman last season. Seven of their last eight games have been played on the road or at neutral sites.

With M’Baye – the team’s second-leading scorer with a 10.6-point average – struggling, Kruger went with a four-guard lineup featuring more opportunities for Clark. He responded by going 8 of 12 from the field and posting his highest scoring total since he had 18 last December against Sacramento State.

“Having more opportunities to create, attack more, it was good,” Clark said. “I like it.”

Both of the Sooners’ freshman starters struggled as Kruger tried to have Hornbeak play exclusively at the point and Cousins solely at the wing. He said he planned to keep experimenting with it, though.

“We’re quite a ways into the season and still searching for different identities and different roles,” Kruger said.

Texas A&M had a four-game winning streak snapped and did not make its players available for interviews.

It was an unfamiliar setting for the two schools, which spent the last 16 seasons in the same conference and mostly in the same division before A&M joined the Southeastern Conference. Their only other meeting at the All-College came in 1988.

Texas A&M had won nine of the previous 13 meetings, including two of three last season. One of those victories came in the Big 12 tournament, ending Oklahoma’s season.

It was the only game in this year’s All-College. The event, which has been in existence since 1936, bills itself as the nation’s oldest collegiate basketball tournament. Over the years, it has shrunk from an eight-team tournament and recently was a doubleheader featuring games involving Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

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