OU defense fuels win over Mizzou

Sooners pressure creates turnovers, easy points in Big 12/SEC Challenge victory

After six unanswered points midway through the first half, Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler raised his hands in the air and beckoned to the crowd with his fingertips.

He turned his back to the bench and yelled to the crowd Friday night.

Five points later, Spangler asked for even more, flanked by Buddy Hield who had just completed a quick jog down the court with his arms stretched out, three fingers extended on both hands.

One possession later, guard Isaiah Cousins euphorically rolled on the floor after a two-handed dunk by TaShawn Thomas, who came walking out of the ensuing possession wildly waving his arms asking for even more noise.

It was all a part of a defensive effort that produced a big first half run and then led to 15 unanswered points to start the second half as Oklahoma cruised to a 82-63 victory against Missouri that clinched the SEC/Big 12 Challenge for the Big 12 Conference.

“We see the change. We see the change in guys wanting to play defense,” Hield said. “They’re so committed to defense. It’s fun getting after guys. It makes the crowd more energetic. . . . We feed off the crowd. We just kept going to get after the ball.”

Oklahoma (5-2) put together 16 unanswered points midway through the first half before putting the game away with its 15-0 spurt to start the second half.

Suffocating defense keyed both runs as the Sooners’ offense, which had been so dependent on a vast number of shots last year, was fueled by an up-tempo defense.

“The defense isn’t able to get back,” Spangler said of creating fast-break opportunities. “We’re pretty fast getting up and down the court. We’re a better team when we can get out and run.”

The Sooners scored 18 points on the fast break and 18 off turnovers against Missouri (4-4), which has now lost to its three major conference opponents by a combined 59 points.

Oklahoma snapped a three-game losing streak to the Tigers behind a game-high 18 points from Spangler. Hield, who went a perfect 4-for-4 in the second half, scored 17 points. Cousins, who sparked the Sooners early on both offense and defense, scored 16 points.

“Isaiah on both ends got us going early,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “He made some shots early. Even more important was his pressure defensively, kind of disrupting the flow for Missouri.”

Seated next to Kruger after the game, Spangler pointed out some the liked on the box score to his coach a smiled. He saw the Sooners’ shooting percentage.

“We haven’t shot 57 percent in a while,” Spangler said. “That’s what we worked on this week, taking better shots.”

Oklahoma, which clinched the Big 12 Conference victory for the second straight year, worked all week in practice trying to find better shots. Hield, Spangler and Kruger all felt the Sooners, who recorded eight steals in the first half, found the shots for which they were looking.

“We threw it inside a lot more than we have been,” Kruger said. “We threw it inside tonight like we’ve been doing it in practice. Guys understand the value of that.”

Thomas, who scored nine points, did most of his damage in defensive-created transition, finishing above the rim and even going coast-to-coast on one instance. The half-court offense ran through Spangler, who stepped out and knocked down a pair of 3-pointers.

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