LAWRENCE, Kansas — Even going through warmups for Wednesday’s 70-63 loss to No. 5 Kansas, it was clear Oklahoma forward Jamuni McNeace was not fully recovered from his right ankle sprain.
But coach Lon Kruger wanted to leave the decision in his hands.
So McNeace walked onto James Naismith Court at Allen Fieldhouse for the final time with 4:34 left in the first half. He only lasted two minutes, with his only shot, a turnaround hook, sailing well over the rim.
“He wanted to give it a try,” Kruger said. “It’s really in Jamuni’s court right now. It’s about [pain] tolerance, but again, he hasn’t practiced. He felt like he could go tonight. He just didn’t look comfortable out there.”
On his radio show Thursday, Kruger told Toby Rowland McNeace practiced more earlier that day than he had in some time.
McNeace injured the ankle during a practice on Dec. 2, right before OU’s 85-80 win over Notre Dame at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He made a limited return two games later, playing 14 minutes against Southern Cal on Dec. 15.
He returned to the starting lineup against Creighton on Dec. 18, but managed just 17 minutes, scoring four points on 2 of 2 shooting with three blocks. But in the next game, at Northwestern, he didn’t look as strong, scoring two points in seven minutes.
Without McNeace, the Sooners are playing without a center, starting power forwards 6-foot-8 Kristian Doolittle and 6-9 Brady Manek. They have also relied on sharpshooting power forward Matt Freeman off the bench, but he missed all four of his 3-pointers against KU.
• Bieniemy’s confidence: Of all the Allen Fieldhouse first timers, OU’s lone true freshman seemed the most unfazed.
Jamal Bieniemy came off the bench to score seven points, sinking all three of his shots. The biggest one, an unflinching 3-pointer at the top of the key, answered a Lagerald Vick 3-pointer, silencing the crowd just when it was about to get rocking with 11:46 left.
• Road to 15: KU has a crucial showdown at Iowa State Saturday, as the Sooners (11-2, 0-1 Big 12) have a must-win game against Oklahoma State at home.
The Jayhawks (12-1, 1-0) are an obvious favorite for the Big 12 regular season title once again, but Wednesday should give some of the competition some hope. In the other games, Texas at Kansas State, No. 11 Texas Tech at West Virginia and Iowa State at Oklahoma State, the road teams won.
KU coach Bill Self said after the game that he felt the conference champion could likely only afford one or two losses at home. The Sooners kept Wednesday’s game close even while committing 17 turnovers and sinking just 22.7 percent of their 3-pointers. It was an encouraging sign for some potential upsets in Lawrence this year.
“You probably need to go 8-1 or 7-2 [at home] at the worst to have a chance,” Self said. “I saw the scores. They were real impressive.”
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