Oklahoma improved to 7-1 with a narrow 85-80 win over Notre Dame at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
The Sooners earned the win thanks to big performances from a few key players, but none more important than Christian James. The senior finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds, his first career double-double.
Here are three thoughts from the Sooners’ big win over the Fighting Irish:
No McNeace, no problem
Oklahoma fans got some bad news on Tuesday when it was revealed center Jamuni McNeace would be held out of this game due to an ankle injury suffered in a recent practice. McNeace has been OU’s best player at times this season and has the ability to control games for spurts on both ends of the floor.
Without him, the Sooners were forced to go small — and it worked. Oklahoma got a great performance from Brady Manek, who made his first five three-pointers, and Matt Freeman. Kristian Doolittle and Hannes Polla also played center for stretches with varying degrees of success.
OU got burned on the boards early by Notre Dame big John Mooney, but ended up with a slight edge in the rebounding battle, 43-43. James led the Sooners with 10 and Manek wasn’t too far behind with eight boards.
Oklahoma was excellent from beyond the arc vs Notre Dame, and that’s the primary reason the Sooners were able to come away with a win. OU finished 15-of-29 from distance and had four players (James, Manek, Freeman and Aaron Calixte) make multiple threes. Guards Jamal Bieniemy and Miles Reynolds added one each for good measure.
The three was especially important in the second half. Freeman scored all 11 of his points in the frame, and James added 16 points on just 10 shots. In all, the Sooners made eight threes after halftime, which kept keep the Fighting Irish at bay.
This is a major win
Coming into the season, expectations were low for Lon Kruger’s Sooners. Trae Young and Kam McGusty both moved on in the offseason, and James had yet to emerge as the go-to scorer he is now.
But now, with Oklahoma at 7-1, it looks like the Sooners are going to have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament once again. OU has a few tough nonconference games remaining, but opportunities for bad losses are in the rearview mirror.
Remaining on the nonconference schedule: Wichita State, USC, Creighton, Northwestern and Vanderbilt (Big 12/SEC Challenge on Jan. 26). Getting to conference play with 10 wins already in the bank is starting to look like a real possibility for Oklahoma.
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