Oklahoma basketball: Sooners new ID is defense and deliberate play

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 15: Jeff Dowtin
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 15: Jeff Dowtin /

Finding ways to win is the mark of any successful team, and this Oklahoma basketball team has come together as a different team from last year’s Trae Young team.

The Sooners shot 53 percent in the second half while holding North Texas to just 26 percent over the final 20 minutes on Tuesday night and pulled away for a 73-57 home win over the Mean Green. It was Oklahoma’s sixth win of the season with one loss. It was the first loss of the 2018-19 season for North Texas after opening with eight consecutive victories.

Unlike last season, when the Sooners played a more up-and-down game, attempting to score early and often with All-American Young running the point, this year the OU basketball identity seems to be more deliberate in offensive sets with better discipline on the defensive end.

"“When we defend like that and we have that stretch in the second half where we lock in defensively and stop, score, stop, I don’t know if there’s too many teams in the country that can play a full 40 minutes with us,” said Sooner head coach Lon Kruger in his postgame comments following the win over North Texas."

Christian James has been the go-to Sooner so far this young season. The senior shooting guard is averaging 19.1 points per game and has led the Sooners in scoring in five of their seven games. He got plenty of help against North Texas, however.

Three Sooners, not including James, scored in double figures on Tuesday at Lloyd Noble Center, led by senior center Jamuni McNeace, who scored a season-high 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 30 minutes of action.

Graduate transfer Miles Reynolds contributed 17 points off the bench and sophomore Brady Manek added 10. Reynolds has scored 17 in each of his last two games.

The Sooners shot well from the floor and played solid defense, but the scoring margin could have been much greater had OU been able to make their free throws. The Sooners made only 17 of 33 free-throw attempts.

Oklahoma pounded the Mean Green in the paint, led by McNeace’s 18 points. OU outscored North Texas 38-24 in close to the bucket, and also recorded 15 points off of 17 Mean Green turnovers.

The schedule gets much tougher for the Sooners. OU travels to New York City for a game with Notre Dame in Madison Square Garden next Tuesday as part the Jimmy V Classic. That game will be televised by ESPN, beginning at 6 p.m. CT. On Dec. 8, the Sooners host Wichita State in Oklahoma City and then go to Tulsa on Dec. 15 for a game against USC.