COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP)—For such a little guy, Oklahoma point guard Drew Lavender sure causes Texas A&M big problems at home.
The 5-foot-7 Lavender continued his improbable run of dominance on the Aggies’ home court, scoring a season-high 23 points to lead the Sooners over Texas A&M 70-54 on Tuesday night.
“It’s my favorite gym besides Lloyd-Noble (Oklahoma’s arena),” Lavender said of A&M’s sparkling new Reed Arena. “My shots always fall in.”
The 18th-ranked Sooners (14-2, 3-0 Big 12) have won eight straight and 12 of 13, keeping pace with No. 2 Kansas (13-0, 3-0) as the early leaders for the regular-season league crown.
Lawrence McKenzie sparked Oklahoma’s game-closing 13-1 run with consecutive 3s and Lavender finished it by scoring seven straight points to help seal the victory.
A game after scoring a then-season high 20 at Baylor, Lavender again powered Oklahoma’s bruising offensive attack with floaters in the lane and timely 3s from all around the arc.
The Sooners’ lightning-quick point guard was virtually unstoppable, forcing the Aggies (12-3, 1-3) to guard him with a group of defenders ranging from point guard Acie Law to 6-foot-7 forward Antoine Wright.
And with A&M’s raucous crowd of 11,971 all but completely silenced, Lavender dribbled out the clock at midcourt and pumped his fist when the buzzer sounded. The Sooners came onto the floor to greet their little leader with hearty chest bumps.
“That was as dominating a performance as you could have,” A&M coach Billy Gillispie said. “He got his team every single shot they wanted. They all played really well, but he was the guy who made it happen.”
It was pretty much the same kind of gritty performance Lavender staged in the Sooners’ 78-72 victory over the Aggies last year.
He scored a career-high 31 points, including nine in the final two minutes, to help Oklahoma rally late against an A&M team that would go on to finish winless in all 16 conference games.
“Every year he seems to come in here and put on his ‘A’ game,” Wright said. “This little-bitty man is causing so many problems.”
McKenzie, Terrell Everett and Kevin Bookout each scored 12 points for the Sooners, who shot 53 percent against the nation’s top-rated defense for field-goal percentage—A&M entered limiting opponents to just 35.2 percent shooting.
The Sooners’ offensive performance was even more impressive considering they didn’t get a single point from leading scorer Taj Gray, who played 18 minutes and missed his only two shots.
“If they shut him down, other players have to step up,” Lavender said. “And tonight I was able to do that.”
Wright led the Aggies with 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting, and was the only A&M player to score in double figures.
The Aggies have lost two straight and three of their past four—all in the Big 12—after starting the season 11-0. A&M got off to that fast start mostly by beating lightly regarded opponents such as Louisiana-Monroe, Texas-Permian Basin, an NAIA school, and Trinity, a Division III school.
Their 74-63 win over then-No. 10 Texas a week ago now seems to have been nothing more than a big upset.
“I’m not making excuses for our guys, but we have what we have,” Gillispie said. “And our margin for error against a great team is very small.”
Regardless, Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson saw lots of improvement from the A&M team that finished 7-21 last season under then-coach Melvin Watkins.
“I thought A&M was the unluckiest team in the country last year,” Sampson said. “There were several games they could have won, they just didn’t do it. Winning is contagious.”