Oklahoma faced some tough opponents early in its non-conference schedule, but that’s not the case at the end.
After easily defeating a lesser opponent their last time out, the sixth-ranked Sooners will be without their coach as they look to wrap up their non-conference slate with another big win on Monday when they host Maryland-Eastern Shore in the first meeting between these programs.
Coach Jeff Capel will not be with the team after being hospitalized with a stomach virus on Monday, and assistant Mark Cline will run the squad.
In preparation for a challenging Big 12 season, Oklahoma (13-1), which has been picked to win the conference, scheduled several quality opponents early in the year. The Sooners beat then-No. 21 Davidson on Nov. 18 and defeated then-No. 10 Purdue 10 days later, as they opened 12-0 before falling to Arkansas 96-88 on Tuesday.
While nine of its first 13 opponents had winning records, Oklahoma’s final two non-conference opponents - Coppin State and Maryland-Eastern Shore (1-8) - have a combined record of 3-19.
The Sooners had no trouble with Coppin State on Saturday, as they jumped out to a 45-23 lead at the end of the first half en route to a 93-62 victory.
Although the Eagles did not figure to present a challenge for Oklahoma, a fast start was important for Capel, who was adamant about his team opening the game with more energy. Against the Razorbacks, the Sooners fell behind 21-8 and trailed by as many as 25.
“We definitely wanted to get off to a good start - play with a sense of urgency. I thought we did that today,” said Capel, whose team opens Big 12 play Saturday at Kansas State.
Blake Griffin, the Big 12 preseason player of the year, nearly had a double-double at halftime before finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds in only 26 minutes for his 11th double-double of the season. Griffin leads the Big 12 in points (22.2) and rebounds (13.9) per game.
Tony Crocker led the Sooners with 20 points and hit five of their 13 3-pointers Saturday.
“We’ve got another game coming up on Monday, so we’re just going to work towards that,” Crocker said. “I think everyone is really confident right now.”
Oklahoma, which is off to its best start since the 2001-02 team started 14-1, held the Eagles to 35.5 percent shooting and shouldn’t have much trouble shutting down Maryland-Eastern Shore, either.
The Hawks have the second-worst offense in Division I basketball, averaging just 51.0 points per game. They are shooting 33.8 percent on the season, but actually connected on a season-high 41.3 percent of their shots in Saturday’s 88-56 loss at Nebraska.
Neal Pitt led Maryland-Eastern Shore with 18 points, and is averaging 19.0 points in his last three games after averaging 10.0 in his previous two.
While their offense had some success on Saturday, the Hawks’ defense could not slow down the Huskers, as it allowed an opponent season high in points and field-goal percentage (61.1).
“Anytime you play a BCS conference team, you know the depth and experience factor is going to be a challenge,” Hawks assistant coach Mike Blaine said.
Maryland-Eastern Shore is 0-8 against Top 25 teams since 1996-97. This will be the Hawks’ first game against a ranked opponent since a 102-46 loss to No. 8 Wichita State on Dec. 17, 2006.
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