On an Oklahoma team featuring slick-shooting guard Willie Warren – who’s been his team’s top scorer at almost every level – Steven Pledger had no illusions of leading the Sooners in scoring in his first collegiate game.
But, as Warren told him, “Keep shooting like that and you can be the high scorer every game.”
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Pledger scored 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting as No. 17 Oklahoma‘s much-heralded freshman class lifted the Sooners to a 95-71 victory over Mount St. Mary’s on Saturday.
Another freshman, Keith “Tiny” Gallon, had 18 points and 15 rebounds, while Warren added 15 points and a career-high 11 assists for his first double-double for Oklahoma, which has won 23 of its last 25 season openers.
“I was just running around, basically playing off of Willie driving to the basket,” Pledger said. “Whenever he drives, I’m just sneaking around. I know he knows where I’m at. … It’s easy to play with big-name guys.”
The win was the 1,499th in Oklahoma‘s history, the 29th-highest total in NCAA Division I. The Sooners host Louisiana-Monroe on Tuesday.
Mount St. Mary’s is 3-19 in season openers since joining Division I. The Mountaineers, the preseason favorite in the Northeast Conference, dropped to 1-14 all-time against ranked foes. Jeremy Goode, the conference’s preseason player of the year, led Mount St. Mary’s with 18 points but had eight of his team’s 15 turnovers.
The Sooners, coming off a 30-6 season in which they advanced to the round of eight in the NCAA tournament, were picked third in the Big 12 Conference preseason coaches’ poll despite the loss of consensus national player of the year Blake Griffin. Much of the preseason hype surrounding the team focused on its freshmen and they didn’t disappoint Saturday.
The four Oklahoma freshmen who played significant minutes all scored in double figures, with Andrew Fitzgerald adding 14 points and Tommy Mason-Griffin finishing with 11. The 6-foot-9, 290-pound Gallon dominated on the boards as Oklahoma outrebounded the Mountaineers 51-30. He also made all six of his free throws as the Sooners finished 25 of 28 from the line.
“They’ve been doing the same thing they’ve been doing … and that’s hitting shots like they’ve been doing all practice,” Warren said. “Tiny’s getting down there banging like we want him to do and Pledger’s hitting threes from anywhere on the court.”
Pledger went 4 of 5 from 3-point range and capped his outing with an alley-oop pass to Gallon, who dunked with 1:55 left to give the Sooners a 27-point lead, their largest of the game.
“I thought our four freshmen were tremendous. For an opening game, their first college basketball game, for those guys to step up the way they did, all of them contributed,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. “That speaks to how talented they are and the thing about that is that I still think they have such a huge ceiling to get better.”
Mount St. Mary’s made five of its first six shots and led three times in the early minutes. The Mountaineers trailed only 31-29 after Tayvon Jackson made two free throws with 4:57 left in the first half.
Oklahoma tightened up its transition defense and went on a 18-4 run, highlighted by the Sooners‘ first three 3-pointers of the game – two of them from Pledger – to take a 49-36 halftime lead.
“We knew that we were playing against a very good team,” Mount St. Mary’s coach Milan Brown said. “The guys were excited. A couple of turnovers and runouts and some offensive rebounds later, we weren’t too excited.”
The Mountaineers scored the first eight points of the second half and closed within 55-50 with 14:46 left. But 25 seconds later, with the Sooners up by six, Brown received a technical foul. Oklahoma‘s Mason-Griffin hit both free throws, and Warren and Gallon each followed with a pair of free throws to rebuild the Sooners‘ lead to 62-50.
The Mountaineers came no closer than 10 points the rest of the way and finished with 11 assists – the same amount recorded by Warren, upon whom Mount St. Mary’s defenders often collapsed, leading to easy passes to other Oklahoma players for baskets.
Jean Cajou scored 13 points for Mount St. Mary’s, while Shawn Atupem and Kelly Beidler had 10 each.
Mount St. Mary’s will play 12 of its first 15 games this season on the road. Included in that stretch will be trips to Georgetown and Pittsburgh.