MEN'S BB: Sooners Sluggish in Win Over Rice

Coming off three big wins and with Big XII play looming, most everyone expected the Sooners to be flat Saturday when they hosted Rice. Most everyone was right, but unlike the last time OU was ice cold from the field, the Sooners found a way to grind out a 61-49 victory over the Owls.

NORMAN – Like a tornado being forecast from 200 miles away, Jeff Capel knew it was coming.

The question was, Could his Oklahoma Sooners weather the storm?

OU was expected to be flat on Saturday against the Rice Owls and they were exactly that. Still, they closed strong to pull out a 61-49 win in front of 7,068 at Lloyd Noble Center.

"Last time we played here and didn't play well, we lost, so we're pleased to get the win," Sooner coach Jeff Capel said, referring to Oklahoma's 66-62 loss to Stephen F. Austin on Dec. 8. "The last time I came in here after playing like this, it was a totally different feeling.

"I don't feel great, but we won the game."

In fact, the Sooners won their fourth game in a row and improved to 11-3. However, it didn't come easy against a Rice (3-10) team that was playing its third road game since Monday.

The Sooners led by just three points at halftime after shooting 37.9 percent from the field, including 1-of-13 (7.7 percent) from 3-point range. They finished the game shooting 43.1 percent (22-of-51).

Coming off wins over Arkansas, Gonzaga and West Virginia, Capel talked to his team about coming out flat, but knew it was all but inevitable.

"No question. Absolutely," he said when asked if he feared his team would come out flat. "I told them about it last night and we talked abou tit again this morning. I felt we had decent energy to start, but we got deflated when we couldn't make a shot outside of a dunk or a layup.

"And we had some wide-open looks."

Added junior guard Austin Johnson, who scored 12 points, but was just 5-of-13 from the field, including 1-of-6 on treys: "It is kind of harder because some teams play down to the opponent and I think that is what happened to us today. We picked it up a little in the second half, but started out slow."

The second half saw improvement. Johnson knocked down a 3-pointer with 15:50 left in the half to kickstart a 17-4 Oklahoma run. Rice never got its deficit in the single digits again.

The Owls were held to 29.1 percent (16-of-55) shooting and committed 22 turnovers.

"I am very disappointed in our guys," Rice coach Willis Wilson said. "We played some tough competition in the last week or two and we've made progress,. I felt like with the things we learned in the last few games that we could come in and make a better showing of ourselves.

"It's disappointing that we didn't take advantage of it."

Rice outrebounded the Sooners 39-37 and took four more shots (55-51) than its hosts.

"We've done a good job on the backboards the last couple of games," Wilson said. "It's an area we put a lot of focus and emphasis on. A key for us tonight that I'm disappointed about is that we got more shots from the field than Oklahoma. That is something we have not been able to do on a lot of nights because of the turnovers. We compensated with rebounding and we didn't take advantage of it.

"It's plain and simple."

Oklahoma's only scoring threat early was Blake Griffin, who scored 10 of the Sooners' first 15 points. Griffin, who finished with a game-high 18 points and a team-high nine boards, could sense his team lacked the early energy.

"We came out kind of strong at first, but we let that go and the air came out of us," he said. "We need to do a better job of coming in strong and playing strong throughout the game."

Freshman Cade Davis' trey with 2:30 left in the first half pushed the Sooner lead to 28-21. Oklahoma had missed its first 11 treys prior to that.

The shot didn't do much to ignite the Sooners, however, as Rice closed the half with a 6-2 run to pull within 30-27.

Not until the second half did the Sooners start to put some distance between themselves and the Owls.

One reason was Keith Clark, who scored eight of his 11 points in the half, including a pair of treys. He also provided the Sooners with an inside presence outside of Griffin on defense.

"I thought he was a guy that really gave us a jolt of energy," Capel said. "He also had three defensive rebounds (in 19 minutes) and that's an area we need him. He did some good things for us."

Forward Paulius Packevicius led the Owls with 16 points and 10 boards. Guard Rodney Foster added 14 points for a team that played at Texas A&M on Monday and then Thursday night at Vanderbilt, both top-15 teams.

"I don't think we played well, but you have to give Rice credit for that," Capel said. "Those kids from Rice fought. For them to come in and put forth that kind of effort speaks volumes about their program."

Still, the game was an improvement over the last time the Sooners were cold from the floor because this one goes in the win colum.

" I'm just glad that we did enough and got enough stops to get the win," Capel said.

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