The Sooners haven’t lost an exhibition game in nine years, and they weren’t about to start Wednesday night.
Not in front the likes of former Oklahoma men’s basketball players Alvan Adams, Bob Pritchard, Mike McCurdy and Jerry Vest, and not in front of a crowd of tie-dyed OU fans who witnessed the first game in McCasland Field House in over a decade.
Oklahoma routed Division-II Central Oklahoma 94-66 in its final preseason game of the year. 13 players scored points for Oklahoma, but none more than freshmen guard Buddy Hield who came off the bench to lead all scorers with 19 points.
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“Buddy is going to bring that aggressiveness regardless if he starts or comes off the bench,” said OU men’s basketball coach Lon Kruger. “Obviously he is playing well enough to be a guy who jumps in there as a starter.”
Whoop, there it is.
Hield has been Oklahoma’s leading scorer during the preseason. He attacks the basket well and has proven he is a consistent shooter from long range.
But just because he’s good enough to start doesn’t mean he will start or needs to start. His burst of energy has been welcome when the starting five have slowed, and coming off the bench doesn’t bother him at all.
Hield is focused on making sure he’s ready when Kruger calls his name.
“I just want to help the team, do what is best for the team, win every game and do what Coach Kruger wants me to do,” he said.
Hield shot 7-of-13 from the floor, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range, in 22 minutes. Still, he insisted it was difficult for him to find the bottom of the net.
“No, it wasn’t easy shooting,” he said. “Coming in from a different gym, shooting in the practice gym and then the Lloyd Noble - and then you come in here and shoot. It was a lot different.”
Freshman guard Je'lon Hornbeak started for the second consecutive game, and scored 15 points on 4-of-6 shooting. Yet he agreed it was hard to shoot in such an unfamiliar environment.
“It’s always a little different coming into a (different) gym,” Hornbeak said. “We didn’t really get to warm up here - shoot around - like we normally do, but I feel like we shot the ball pretty well.”
The Sooners shot just 40.3 percent from the floor and just 30 percent from 3-point land, a stark dive from the 50 percent they shot from distance against Division-II Washburn last Friday. Oklahoma also turned the ball over 17 times, and converted just 33-of-43 free-throw attempts.
OU will almost certainly have better statistical shooting games, but the players might not have more fun than they did playing in the close confines of the field house with fans sitting almost on top of them.
Junior forward Amath M'Baye was all smiles while he spoke about the atmosphere during the postgame press conference. He scored 11 points in 18 minutes while ripping down five rebounds and recording four blocks.
“Everyone was around us and we could hear everything,” M’Baye said. “It was fun, and I’m glad the crowd showed up. That’s something I would like to do again.”
Kruger was pleased with his team, and said he likes the idea of playing “10 to 11 guys” during the non-conference schedule, but whether he keeps playing that many men is up to them.
“Guys know we want to play a lot of people,” Kruger said. “So if they step in and do the things necessary and get the production necessary there is no reason to shorten up. They will determine that by how they’re playing and their production and the little things meshed together.”