NORMAN – This was the kind of game Oklahoma needed, and it came at the perfect time of the year. At the midpoint of the Big 12 Conference season, the Sooners made easy work of TCU in a 95-72 victory Tuesday night.
The bench, which hadn’t scored more than 17 points since before Christmas, built up some much needed confidence. Akolda Manyang battled strong inside, and freshman guard Christian James hit a couple big 3-pointers – even flashing Buddy Hield’s three fingers to the temple celebration.
The starters, who have played together more than 80 percent of the time for Oklahoma, got a much-needed rest – albeit not a huge one. Four of the five are averaging more than 30 minutes per game but only Buddy Hield played more than 30 minutes.
With Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant, Sooners quarterback and Heisman-candidate Baker Mayfield and nationally recognizable announcer and Oklahoman Jim Ross in the Lloyd Noble Center, the Sooners put up their most points in a Big 12 game in almost two years.
“The deeper we can be with quality depth, the better,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “It wasn’t just (Tuesday). We’ve had better play and better production in practice out of the guys coming off the bench. That’s the big key. The last four or five practices have been pretty good in terms of their focus and competing to earn more minutes, which is good.”
Prior to Tuesday night, James had scored just 10 points in his previous seven games combined but finished with a career-high 12 points. Manyang had eight points, four blocks and three rebounds in a career-high 16 minutes.
The Oklahoma bench scored 30 points, the most in Big 12 play this season.
“I’ve just been in the gym a lot with Buddy and Isaiah, just trying to find my rhythm,” James said. “In practice, I’ve been knocking down a couple of shots. It’s giving me confidence.”
In limited minutes, Isaiah Cousins finished just three assists shy of a triple-double (13 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists). All five starters scored in double figures despite playing less than 32 minutes as a group and checking out with just more than three minutes to play.
Hield finished with 17 points, Jordan Woodard, who shot a career-high nine free throws, had all 14 of his points in the first half andRyan Spangler had his second-straight double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
“You always like seeing everyone play well,” Kruger said. “. . . It’s always good. The more guys the better playing well.”
No. 1 Oklahoma (19-2, 7-2 Big 12), which holds a half-game lead on the Big 12 after the win, returns to action at 7 p.m. Saturday at Kansas State.