Oklahoma had one of the toughest tests of any Top 25 team in its opener.
The competition will get significantly easier for its second game.
The eighth-ranked Sooners open the home portion of their schedule Friday night against winless McNeese State, which is coming off a home loss to a Division III team.
Oklahoma was one of two ranked teams to open with a road game, surviving 84-78 at Memphis on Tuesday. Trailing by a point with 1:30 to go, the Sooners finished on a 9-2 run with Buddy Hield draining four free throws in the final 14 seconds.
”It couldn’t have been a better scenario, especially since we won” coach Lon Kruger said. “We beat a good team and the crowd was good for our team.”
The Sooners return four starters – three of them seniors – from last season’s team that barely missed the Elite Eight, and their experience showed down the stretch against the Tigers.
Senior Ryan Spangler had the go-ahead dunk late and finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds, while Jordan Woodard had a 3-pointer with 36 seconds remaining and ended with 15 points and nine boards.
Hield was the driving force, however, as the preseason All-American had 30 points, eight rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocked shots. He also went 4 of 8 from 3-point range and made 8 of 10 free throws.
“Buddy and Jordan make key plays down the stretch and free throws are part of those key plays and you have to have them to win the ballgame,” Kruger said.
Defense is also a big part of Oklahoma’s success, and the Sooners held Memphis to 34.6 percent shooting and 6 for 26 from 3-point range. Oklahoma limited opponents to 38.6 percent last season to rank 11th in the nation.
The Sooners were 14-1 at home in 2014-15 and have won 51 of their last 53 there against nonconference teams. They’ve also won 22 straight and 35 of their last 36 home openers.
Picked by the coaches to finish 10th out of 16 teams in the Southland Conference, McNeese State (0-2) doesn’t pose much of a threat to win in Norman after falling 73-70 to Louisiana College on Tuesday. The Cowboys committed 19 turnovers and 29 fouls and the Wildcats took advantage, scoring 19 points off turnovers and going 28 of 34 from the free-throw line.
“I don’t know if we dropped our head during warmups and we thought that it was going to be easy or something, but we’re a work in progress,” coach Dave Simmons told McNeese State’s official website.
The Cowboys, who are looking at their first 0-3 start since 2009-10, trailed by as much as 34 in last Friday’s 81-70 loss to then-No. 21 LSU. They went on a 14-4 run over the final 3:31 to make the final score appear closer than the game actually was.
Despite that 11-point margin, McNeese State has been outscored by an average of 27.8 points in losing all seven games against ranked teams since the start of 2010-11.
Oklahoma has won the two previous meetings, most recently in 1987.