Oklahoma has embraced its post-Trae Young identity, and it helped the Sooners win again.
Jamuni McNeace had 16 points and 10 rebounds and headed a strong defensive effort to help Oklahoma defeat North Texas 73-57 on Tuesday night.
Miles Reynolds scored 17 points and Brady Manek added 10 points and eight rebounds for the Sooners (6-1), who held North Texas to 27.5 percent shooting. It was the third time in four games that the Sooners held an opponent to 60 points or fewer.
That’s a much different path to success than last year’s team with Young that ran at every opportunity. Now that Young is with the Atlanta Hawks, the Sooners have slowed the pace and found a new way to succeed.
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“When we defend like that and we have that stretch in the second half where we lock in defensively and stop, score, stop, score — I don’t know if there’s too many teams in the country that can play 40 minutes with us,” Reynolds said.
Ryan Woolridge led North Texas (8-1) with 17 points and Roosevelt Smart added 13.
North Texas was no slouch. The Mean Green won the CBI championship last season, had the nation’s longest active winning streak at 10 games and had matched the best start in school history. But they couldn’t get around McNeace, who only blocked two shots but affected many others.
“Unfortunately, we just laid an egg and it’s disgusting, really, to see,” North Texas coach Grant McCasland said. “We caught them on a night when they weren’t great early and we could have scored some baskets, made it where it would have been them trying to catch up to us, and we didn’t take advantage.”
McNeace’s rim protection helped Oklahoma defend the perimeter better. North Texas made just 6 of 26 3-pointers.
“It’s huge,” Reynolds said. “It allows us to put a little extra pressure on the guards. Every time it’s in the other guard’s head that when they get to the rim, they’re going to have to finish over some length at the rim.”
The Sooners held off a rally to lead 29-27 at halftime, but North Texas stayed with it. Woolridge made a layup to tie the game at 34, then Zachary Simmons dunked on the next possession to give the Mean Green their first lead.
Oklahoma bounced back and took control for good midway through the second half. Manek hit a 3-pointer to put the Sooners up by 10, and McNeace’s powerful reverse dunk made it 54-43 with about eight minutes to play.
“Give them credit,” McCasland said. “When they needed to separate themselves, they did. We weren’t prepared to take that kind of physicality at the rim for 40 minutes.”
North Texas: The Mean Green put in a solid performance, but Oklahoma’s inside play was too much. North Texas missed several layups and opportunities in the second half to put itself in a better position.
Oklahoma: The Sooners got another solid win to follow their third-place finish in the Battle 4 Atlantis. They shot 53 percent from the field in the second half to pull away.
HE SAID IT
McCasland on what surprised him: “The fact that we played awful in the first half and were down two was shocking.”
Oklahoma made just 17 of 33 free throws, keeping a game that could have been a blowout relatively close. McNeace made just 6 of 13.
North Texas plays at Indiana State on Dec. 5.
Oklahoma plays Notre Dame in the Jimmy V Classic on Dec. 4.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP