NORMAN — Taj Gray certainly knows how to make an entrance.
Playing in his first major college game, Oklahoma's junior power forward led the way with 29 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks in the Sooners' 82-72 come-from-behind win over Cal-State Northridge Saturday in Norman.
"We knew Cal State Northridge was going to play hard and we knew what to expect," said Oklahoma Head Coach Kelvin Sampson on the Matadors, who return four starters from a team that was one win away from the NCAA Tournament last year. "We saw how good Northridge played against teams last year. You have to be ready to play a team like that."
Northridge came out strong and built an early 12-point edge, but the Sooners ended the half with a 16-7 run to cut the lead to 35-34 at halftime.
Gray, who was a first-team All-American at Redlands Junior College last season, scored the Sooners' first 10 points of the second half and later put together a string of five straight to break a 66-66 tie late in the game to help Oklahoma pull away.
"Taj is Taj," said Sampson on Gray, who scored 22 of his 29 points in the second half. "He's awfully good. He hasn't played many games here so he's still getting used to it. In the first half he looked lost, but he settled down in the second half and got us going. Our front line dominated the game."
"I realized coming out in the second half that I was not crashing the boards as hard," Gray said on his second half outburst. "I needed to change my mentality to fit the tempo of the second half. Each guy on the team knew they had to change some aspect of their game so we could come out and get the win."
"I was not really thinking about things when I was out on the floor," Gray continued. "I was just out there having fun and competing with my teammates. My teammates gave me some good looks and when I had open shots I was able to knock them down. I couldn't have achieved anything tonight without my teammates."
Joining Gray in double figures was Kevin Bookout, Lawrence McKenzie and Drew Lavender. Bookout, who led the Sooners with 10 first half points, finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. Lavender added 10 and was a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line. McKenzie came off the bench to chip in 11, including three three's, in 23 minutes of action.
Freshman forward Calvin Chitwood led a very tough Matador team with 19 points. Norman native Ian Boylan finished with 14.
Overall, Sampson was pleased with the win.
"I couldn't have scripted the game any better for our team," said Sampson. "We were down by 12 and give Northridge credit for that. We got better today. You could see it from the middle of the game to the end of the game.
"We were down by 12 and then up by 10 near the end of the game. Our ceiling is high because we have such young kids. A month from now we'll be good and two months from now we'll be even better."
The Sooners will return to action next Thursday in the first round of the Great Alaska Shootout against High Point.
OU-Northridge Box Score
Sooners survive in opener against Northridge
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