By John Shinn
NORMAN — Oklahoma didn’t have many goals going into Wednesday night’s game against Idaho. Beyond winning, there was only one: improve defensively.
The Sooners gave up layups in bunches to start its first two games against Alabama and North Texas. That run had to stop.
It did in an 85-65 victory over the Vandals at Lloyd Noble Center.
“We just came out of with a lot of intensity. We talked in the locker room about defense and the need to get stops, and we were saying that the whole game,” said forward Cameron Clark, who led OU with 14 points.
The Sooners held Idaho (1-1) to 36.7 percent (22 of 60) shooting and used that defense to pull away late in the first half and early in the second.
OU trailed throughout the opening 12 minutes, but closed the final 4 1/2 minutes of the first half with a 13-3 run. Clark nailed a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to give OU a 40-29 edge. The Sooners started the second half with a 16-5 run to put the game away.
It was a night of offensive balance for OU. Clark led the way, but Ryan Spangler and Buddy Hield both added 13 points and Je’lon Hornbeak and Tyler Neal both kicked in 12 apiece.
Hornbeak added a game-high six assists and looked very comfortable at the point guard spot.
He was needed. Starter Jordan Woodard picked up two fouls in the first 11 minutes and only played 16 minutes.
“My job is basically to come in and play wherever coach needs me to help out, whether that is at the wing or point,” said Hornbeak, who has come off the bench in the first three games. “Jordan got in some early foul trouble, so playing point and running the team was put in my hands and I did it to the best of my abilities.”
The Sooners shot 46.8 percent (29 for 62) and Wednesday marked the third straight game they’ve scored at least 82 points. Defense, however, was the overall emphasis coming into the game. There hasn’t been a ton of practice time in the last week. Wednesday marked OU’s third game in six days.
But what OU coach Lon Kruger wanted see was if his team could shut a team down and force them to take jump shots. For the first time this season it did.
“After the first few minutes we got into them and dictated defensively,” Kruger said. “It was a whole different effort tonight, defensively. It was much better than we had in the first couple ballgames. I thought we took a step up in that area … The key tonight was our activity on the defensive end. It was more like what we need to have.”
Glen Dean scored 14 points to lead Idaho and Sekou Wiggs added 11.
The Sooners can get back in the practice gym for a while. They don’t play again until they go to New York to face Seton Hall at Barclays Center in the first game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic a week from Friday. A lot of that time will be spent on the defensive end, but the Sooners showed what they can do on that end of the floor.
“In today’s game, we really held each other accountable and it showed,” Hornbeak said.