In the bonus: Kruger two wins from No. 500

Editor’s note: “In the bonus” is a new weekly feature on with news, notes and analysis about Oklahoma men’s basketball, preps basketball recruiting and Big 12 men’s basketball.
The Sooners have a chance to earn Oklahoma men’s basketball coach Lon Kruger his 499th and 500th win of his collegiate coaching career this week with games at 7 tonight at Mabee Center against Oral Roberts and 7 p.m. Friday at Lloyd Noble versus Northwestern State.
Kruger’s 498 wins rank 21st among the nation’s active head coaches.
Earning 500 wins is yet another milestone in Kruger’s 26 years of coaching, but he says he hasn’t thought about it much.
“It’s something that just comes around when you do it for a while,” he said.
He’s focused on earning his fifth win of this season, and that means preparing to play ORU (3-3) and senior guard Warren Niles.
Niles is expected to carry much of the scoring load for ORU this season with the departure of former Golden Eagle Dominique Morrison. Morrison scored 20 points on 7 of 18 shooting against the Sooners last year in OU’s 73-59 win against ORU.
He could be the first perimeter player capable of giving the Sooners problems. Standing 6-foot-5, he’s averaging 20.8 points per game this season.
Niles scored 33 points against Loyola Marymount on 11-of-15 shooting, including 5-of-6 from 3-point land. Last season the Sooners held Niles scoreless in 26 minutes at Lloyd Noble Center, so it can be done.
Belmont held Niles to just three points in the Golden Eagles’ last outing, but Kruger isn’t taking him lightly.
“He can score in a lot of different ways, so when you play a guy like that the guy that’s on him has gotta work really hard, and the other guys gotta be aware too to provide some help when necessary,” Kruger said.
Big 12 men’s basketball games aren’t first half sprints.
They are 40-minute trudges through the heartland of Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma, through Texas Hill Country, through the mountains and coal mines of West Virginia.
Oklahoma has relied on early first half leads and wide scoring margins between the Sooners and their opponents to win games so far this season. That’s not always a good thing and could lead to problems down the road for the Sooners.
Oklahoma has been outscored in the second half of three of its first five games.
UTEP outscored the Sooners 35-30 in OU’s 68-61 win.
Gonzaga outscored the Sooners 40-25 in the Bulldogs’ 72-47 thrashing of OU.
Texas-Arlington outscored the Sooners 31-25 in OU’s narrow 63-59 win against the Mavericks.
Even West Virginia managed to put together a second half surge in the Sooners’ latest battle. The Sooners barely outscored the Mountaineers 35-33 in the second half.
In fact, the only game Oklahoma decisively won the second half came against Louisiana-Monroe in the Sooners’ season opener. OU outscored ULM 47-29 in the second half to earn an 85-51 victory.
Junior forward Amath M'Baye said he doesn’t know what’s contributing to OU’s lack of second half offense, but he has an idea.
“Sometimes when we come out of the first half up 10 … we tend to think the game is over,” he said. “That’s what these non-conference games are for. We’ve got to learn.
“We’ve got a lot of fresh faces in the team and they haven’t been in big-time college basketball yet. So we’ve just got to learn just how to stay the course, and once we get a lead to stay the course to keep it.”
Being unable to get buckets in the second half of a game isn’t an unfamiliar problem for the Sooners.
The Sooners led at halftime in nine Big 12 games last season but only managed five wins during the 2011-12 campaign. Two of those halftime leads came against Big 12 powers Baylor (away) and Kansas (home).
This season Kruger hopes to remedy his team’s slumping problem with added depth at the guard positions and more scoring in the post. That also might explain why Kruger is sticking with his newcomers when the score is close and winning isn’t assured.
After all, it was the newcomers who sealed OU’s win against West Virginia down the stretch. When the game was tied at 62-62, freshman guards Buddy Hield and Je'lon Hornbeak and M’Baye sparked a 7-2 scoring run which led to a ‘W’ against a Big 12 opponent.
Plano (Texas) Prestonwood Christian forward and Sooners target Julius Randle fractured his right foot during the McDonald’s Texas Invitational last Saturday and is out for at least three months, USA Today reported. His injury required surgery, which was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
Randle is’s No. 2 recruit in nation for the 2013 class. Oklahoma is one of six schools Randle is considering, including Florida Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina State and Texas.
Is M’Baye a banger inside Oklahoma will depend on to pull down eight to 10 boards per game?
Is he a flex small forward who will knock down 20-foot jumpers and force apposing post players to venture out of the paint and into Never Never Land? Will he become a scoring and defensive threat Kruger builds OU’s post game around next season as a senior?
No one knows yet.
It’s clear M’Baye is still figuring out what kind of ballplayer he wants to be.
“It’s something I’ve got to find,” M’Baye said. “I gotta make sure I know where my go-to spots are, and just figure out my go-to moves because I’ve been working a lot of stuff.
“I didn’t think I found where I was comfortable, and I think I’m starting to find it now. So that’s a good sign for me.”
M’Baye has shown flashes of NBA-level talent, and NBA scouts have attended OU’s practices earlier this year with eager eyes. He can stroke a pretty jumper and throw down the kind of dunks most frequently seen captured in a poster.
Yet he’s still shown himself to be a liability as he did against No. 12 Gonzaga last weekend at the Old Spice Classic. Gonzaga rolled out two seven-footers and 6-foot-8 Elias Harris against Oklahoma in the Classic and blew the Sooners out, 72-47.
M’Baye was the Sooner charged with defending Harris. Instead of handling Harris, M’Baye was handled to the tune of a game-high 18 points.
Then against West Virginia he scored a season-high 19 points. He hit 9 of 13 attempts from the charity stripe in a game where free-throws were almost as abundant as points scored.
“I don’t know what clicked, but it felt good,” M’Baye said. “It was just kind of like finding my old me a little bit and my old self. It just felt good to be on the court and do what I know I’m capable of.”
For his effort in the Sooners’ 77-70 victory against WVU, M’Baye was named Big 12 Rookie of the Week.
“It was great to see Amath not only get that award but do things that allowed him to get the award,” Kruger said of M’Baye’s Big 12 honor. “Namely, play much better on Sunday.”
The light seemed to come on for him during the Sooners’ final game in Orlando, Fla., and the Sooners will hope it stays on for the remainder of the season.
Hornbeak grew as a combo guard and scorer for the Sooners during the Classic. That’s good news for the Sooners because the offense seems to work at its best when he’s playing at his best.
He’s averaging the second-most minutes played on the team (23.0 minutes) behind senior 2-guard Steven Pledger (23.4 minutes) and has started all five games this season.
After not scoring a single point against Gonzaga in 19 minutes, Hornbeak scored 14 points in 22 minutes. So what changed between those back-to-back games?
“I came in with a different mindset,” Hornbeak said. “I talked to Coach, and he said I was real passive and me being passive really took away from the flow of the offense, which we talk about -- taking the open looks and not passing any up.”
A physical game between the Mountaineers and Sooners was expected as both WVU men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins and Kruger employ hardnosed man-to-man defensive schemes, but both teams fouling more than 20 times is a bit extreme.
Oklahoma fouled Mountaineers a ridiculous 27 times. OU and WVU combined for 59 free-throw attempts in the game.
 “We’d like to play with that intensity and effort without fouling that much,” Kruger said. “Sometimes you get that a little bit with the effort and activity, but we’ve got to improve on that.”
Still, Kruger believes the Sooners’ game against the Mountaineers was their best yet.
“I thought without question we played our best on Sunday against West Virginia,” Kruger said. “A little more purpose, a little more physical nature to it and we’ve got to keep improving in both of those areas.”
While the amount of fouls and charity stripe opportunities Oklahoma allowed is deplorable, the Sooners’ depth took center stage to grind out a win when Pledger and senior forward Romero Osby were forced to take a seat with four fouls each.
Oklahoma is undersized at a position where being big and tall is not only luxury but a requirement for perennial men’s basketball powers: the low post.
Senior forward Andrew Fitzgerald, Osby and M’Baye stand 6-foot-8, 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-9, respectively. That’s fine when they play teams smaller than them, but it caused problems when they faced teams that could consistently throw long wide bodies into a rotation.
Gonzaga bullied Oklahoma. The Mountaineers managed to tie the game late at 62-62 in a contest where Oklahoma once had a 12-point by feeding the ball to 260-pound forward Deniz Kilicli under the basket.
Kruger admitted playing against teams with large bodies in the post is “a concern.”
“I thought Gonzaga pushed us around pretty good on Friday night, very physical with us,” Kruger said.
Northwestern State has never defeated Oklahoma, making the Demons a long shot to earn a win Friday night.
NSU finished last season 16-16 and returns three starters from last year’s squad. The Demons (3-2) are the second Southland Conference team the Sooners will face this season.
Junior DeQuan Hicks could be give OU’s front court fits. The 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward scored 28 points in 27 minutes against Louisiana State on 12-of-18 shooting.
Hicks has scored double figures in all five of NSU’s games this season.
No. 10 Kansas and No. 15 Oklahoma State are the only Big 12 members ranked in this week’s AP top 25. Baylor was dropped from the rankings after suffering a 63-59 home loss to College of Charleston. The Jayhawks were ranked 12th and the Pokes were ranked 20th in last week’s poll.
After a horrible weekend for Big 12 men’s hoops, Oklahoma State (5-0) and Texas Tech (4-0) are the only remaining unbeaten teams in the Big 12. Both teams face formidable opponents Saturday with OSU traveling to Virginia Tech and Texas Tech hosting No. 9 Arizona.
Oklahoma’s game against West Virginia in the Classic was only the second contest between Big 12 teams during non-conference play. The first time it happened was Nov. 23, 1996 when Texas faced off against Nebraska.
Senior point guard Sam Grooms leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio at 5.00. His ratio is double that of Baylor’s Pierre Jackson (2.50). Grooms has turned the ball over just three times in five games.
Kansas center Jeff Withey posted a triple-double the hard way in the Jayhawks 70-57 win against San Jose State Monday night: 16 points, 12 boards and a Jayhawks record 12 blocks. His is just the second triple-double in Kansas basketball history.