Trailing Harvard by two points at the half, No. 3 Oklahoma had some things to discuss in the locker room at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu Friday night. The Crimson were able to keep Lon Kruger’s team from getting out in the open floor, no small feat when considering the fact that they have one of the nation’s best perimeter attacks led by National Player of the Year candidate Buddy Hield.
Add in Zena Edosomwan’s (25 points, 16 rebounds) play in the post for Harvard, and the Sooners faced some challenges if they were to remain undefeated.
As high-level teams are expected to do in such situations Oklahoma responded, beginning the second half on a 21-0 run and taking control of a game that appeared to be in doubt. Harvard would trim that margin down to five with 4:28 remaining but the hole was too deep, as Oklahoma went on to win 83-71 to move to 11-0 on the season.
Hield, who has been even more efficient than he was in winning Big 12 Player of the Year honors as a junior, led the way with a career-high 34 points but fellow guard Jordan Woodard was impressive as well.
Woodard, who tends to be overlooked by some given the fact that Hield and Isaiah Cousins put more points on the board, scored a career-high 28 points on 9-for-13 shooting from the field. Combining with Hield, Woodard helped Oklahoma more than made up for Cousins shooting 2-for-11 and scoring seven points. Friday night represented another step forward for Woodard, who averaged 9.3 points per game as a sophomore, as a scorer not just from the points but from the percentages as well.
Last season Woodard shot just 36.1 percent from the field and 25.4 percent from three; with Hield and Cousins being able to score with greater efficiency he was the one opponents would give some slack to defensively. Opponents can’t afford to do that this season, as Woodard entered the Harvard game shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 51.3 percent from three.
That progress gives Oklahoma a larger cushion offensively on nights when another scoring option (in addition to Cousins, Ryan Spangler scored just eight points) is having an off night. The more supplementary options for Hield the better for an Oklahoma team that ranks among the nation’s best from an efficiency standpoint on both ends of the floor.
As for Hield, the “most improved” label is generally affixed to players who didn’t do a whole lot in the season prior but a case can be made for the senior from The Bahamas.
Hield’s raised his scoring average nearly seven points from a season ago (up to 24 ppg entering Friday), and he’s putting these points up in a far more efficient manner. Hield shot 11-for-14 from the field and attempted ten free throws against Harvard, making nine, and entering Friday’s game he was shooting 49 percent from the field, 52.3 percent from three and 90 percent from the foul line.
Already tough to deal with off the dribble in the open floor Hield’s improved in the half-court, and he can knock down shots at any level. To this point in the season there should be no doubt that his name belongs with the likes of Denzel Valentine, Kris Dunn and Ben Simmons (to name three) when discussing National Player of the Year candidates.
And as a team Oklahoma has the potential to be special, especially if Khadeem Lattin can continue his progress alongside Spangler in the front court. It took some time against Harvard, but in an eight-minute stretch to begin the second half the Sooners showed why they can play deep into March and maybe even early April.