It didn't come easy and at times it certainly wasn't pretty but Lon Kruger's Oklahoma Sooners got off to a winning start to the 2011-12 basketball season with a 78-74 win over Idaho State. Two big factors in the game were Calvin Newell who was starting in place of Steven Pledger and Romero Osby who is a first-year starter for Oklahoma who came as a transfer from Mississippi State.
Osby scored the first six points of the game for Oklahoma and finished with a double-double after collecting 10 boards to go along with his 17 points. He showed that he can be a true inside/outside guy with by using his body to get into position for some key rebounds and inside shots while also showing range that reaches beyond the three-point line. Also to the joy of the home crowd he also showed the ability to throw it down with a couple of monster dunks that were reminiscent of the Blake Griffin era.
The most surprising performance of the night though had to be that of Calvin Newell who scored a team high 19 points. Newell most likely won't be a starter once Pledger gets his issues resolved and his dues paid but he certainly showed that he's going to be a solid option coming off the bench. Another player who showed range and athleticism, Newell made 4 3-point shots and finished off a drive to the basket with a two-handed flush.
On a night where things weren't clicking for Oklahoma on the offensive end of the floor, Newell had to become a go-to guy and the difference maker. Cameron Clark who was expected to be one of the Sooners leading scorers only had two points and Andrew Fitzgerald also took a back seat with only 7 points. With OU already missing Steven Pledger (serving a one game suspension) that was a lot of points missing.
Helping to bridge the scoring gap were Carl Blair and who scored 12 points and Sam Grooms who was the fourth Sooner to score in double figures with 11. Blair shot a team high 50% from three-point range (3-6) including one at the 9:50 mark to put Oklahoma up 56-54. The Sooners never relinquished the lead after that.
Grooms speed was very noticeable in transition and his best stat line was that he dished out a team high eight assists to just two turnovers while also quietly scoring 11 points. I think its safe to say that OU has definitely upgraded at the PG position as well as gotten stronger inside.
The Sooners out rebounded the Bengals 41-37 but were outscored in the paint 32-26 and beaten on the fast break 20-10. One of the areas of focus this season is limiting second chance points and OU excelled in that area by holding Idaho State to just two second chance points while the Sooners collected 12.
Kruger said after the game the they knew going in that Idaho State would play a zone defense but it sure appeared that Oklahoma wasn't completely ready for it and made some halftime adjustments. The Sooners shot just 24.1% from the floor in the first half and saw the Bengals build a ten point lead with around five and a half minutes left. They improved their field goal percentage to 47% in the second half and turned the game around to build their ten point lead at the 1:27 mark.
Another change from last year was that, while still taking a lot of jump shots, we also saw the guards attack the basket with regularity. The Sooners shot 17 free throws in the first half and 16 in the second half with the guards taking a combined 21 of the 33 free throws.
All in all it wasn't a great night for Oklahoma basketball. They showed that there's still a ton of room for improvement but also a lot of heart, character and team solidarity. It wasn't a bad night either because anytime you walk off the floor with a win its at least a good night.