|Points||Varner, Jr. – 16||James – 29|
|Rebounds||Winn – 6||Manek – 12|
|Assists||Levi – 6||Bieniemy – 4|
|Steals||Levi – 4||James – 2|
|Blocks||Crnogorac – 2||Manek – 2|
EDINBURG, Texas – Christian James scored a career-high 29 points to help Oklahoma defeat Texas Rio Grande Valley 91-76 on Friday night.
“I just think it was the shootaround this morning,” James said. “Got some good food in me, got a good lunch. Just preparation for the game. Just trying to focus and lock in on every play.”
Aaron Calixte scored 15 points and Brady Manek had 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Sooners in their season opener.
It was Oklahoma’s first regular-season game since Trae Young left early for the NBA. Young led the nation in scoring and assists last season as a freshman.
Lesley Varner, Jr. led Rio Grande Valley with 16 points. Tyson Smith scored 14 points, Terry Winn III scored 13 and Javon Levi added 12 for the Vaqueros (1-1).
James scored 17 points in the first half to help the Sooners take a 43-31 lead. The Sooners scored the first five points to start the second half, and a dunk by Kristian Doolittle put the Sooners up 48-31.
Oklahoma controlled the game from there.
“Great game defensively,” James said. “We executed offensively. Had a great game. All-around game. I thought everybody contributed. It was a great win for the first game.”
Oklahoma only outscored Rio Grande Valley by three points in the second half. It was what Kruger expected against Rio Grande coach Lew Hill, a former Oklahoma assistant.
“Tough battle,” Kruger said. “Really like coach Hill’s club, the things they’re doing. It was a ballgame where it seemed like they were just a shot or two from getting back, making it even closer. Like his club a lot.”
Kruger began his coaching career at Texas Pan American, which changed its name to Texas Rio Grande Valley in 2015.
“We’ll be back,” Kruger said. “We love it here. We’ll look forward to getting back, and we’ll look forward to cheering on coach Hill’s team the rest of the way for sure.”
Oklahoma: The Sooners got solid all-around production, but shaky shooting, from their ball-handling guards. Calixte had three assists, freshman Jamal Bieniemy had four assists and Miles Reynolds made 6 of 6 free throws. Calixte made 4 of 7 shots, but Bieniemy missed both his shots and Reynolds went 0 for 5 from the field.
Oklahoma had 15 turnovers against Rio Grande Valley, which turned up the pressure.
“Just got to be strong with the ball, got to be stronger receivers. Coach Hill’s team does a great job of changing the tempo, changing the traps and our guys’ first game, so we didn’t handle it as well as we’d like to. But it’s a great learning opportunity because I think his club does that probably as well as anyone we’re going to see.”
Oklahoma center Jamuni McNeace, who split time last season with Khadeem Lattin last season, took advantage of his minutes. He had nine points and 12 rebounds and made 4 of 6 shots.
Oklahoma plays at Texas San Antonio on Monday. The game tips at 7 p.m. CT on CBS Sports Network.