NORMAN, Okla. (AP)—As Oklahoma’s winning streak grows longer, it’s evident that the Sooners are a different baskeball team with Michael Neal playing.
Neal continued his hot shooting Wednesday night, scoring 16 points as No. 19 Oklahoma beat Texas A&M 71-63. It was the fifth straight victory for the Sooners (14-4, 5-2 Big 12) after opening conference play with two losses by a combined three points.
Neal, a junior guard, missed those two games because of a groin injury, but he’s sizzled since his return. Against the Aggies, he went 4-of-9 from 3-point range—the fourth straight game in which he’s made at least four shots from behind the arc. He’s made 18 of his last 35 3-pointers.
“I’ve been working on my shooting after practice,” Neal said, “and it has been paying off lately.”
The Sooners needed everything Neal provided Wednesday. His fourth 3-pointer, with 6:17 left, gave Oklahoma its biggest lead at 64-50, but Texas A&M (13-6, 3-5) scored the next 11 points and pulled within 64-61 with 3:09 left on a 3-pointer by Dominique Kirk.
That proved to be the last basket for the Aggies, who finished 10-of-15 from 3-point range but made only 11-of-38 2-pointers.
Neal’s backcourt mate, Terrell Everett, sealed the win for the Sooners with two subsequent plays, hitting a 3-pointer with 2:31 left and stealing the ball and scoring on a dunk with 54 seconds left.
“We just tried to play good defense on them,” Everett said. “We felt that if we stopped them, the clock would start to wind down and they would have to foul us.”
Everett finished with 15 points and six assists. The Sooners’ guard play helped them overcome a 9 of 17 performance from the free-throw line.
“We’re missing free throws and (the Aggies) are making threes,” Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said. “Down the stretch in tough games, it comes down to not turning the ball over and making free throws. But I like the way we ended the game. We made the plays at the end.
“It’s a great win for us. It gives us five straight, and we move on. This late in the year, I don’t overanalyze wins.”
Kirk went 4-for-5 from 3-point range and scored 12 points for the Aggies, who have lost six of nine games after a 10-0 start. Center Joseph Jones led Texas A&M with 14 points, but struggled with foul trouble in the second half.
Acie Law, the Aggies’ leading scorer at 16.9 points per game, scored 13 and had six assists, but went scoreless in the second half.
The Sooners, who entered the game tops in NCAA Division I in rebounding margin at plus-12.1 per game, outrebounded Texas A&M 40-27.
Sampson said that was a “point of emphasis” for the Sooners, especially since the Aggies outrebounded them in their first meeting, one of only two opponents to have done that to Oklahoma this season.
“We couldn’t make any baskets (and) couldn’t get any defensive rebounds,” Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie said. “They took advantage of it. They made a lot of offensive rebound baskets on us. We couldn’t get over the hump.”
After a first half that included 12 lead changes, Oklahoma led 40-33—at that point the largest lead of the game for either team. The Sooners closed the half on an 11-4 run.
In contrast to the earlier game between the teams—won by Oklahoma 45-44— both squads came out strong offensively.
Oklahoma made nine of its first 13 shots, the Aggies eight of their first 10, and both still were shooting better than 50 percent by halftime. Texas A&M went 5-of-6 from 3-point range in the half.
Texas A&M cooled down considerably in the second half, finishing 39.6 percent from the field, while Oklahoma shot 50 percent. Taj Gray scored 13 points and had four blocked shots for the Sooners, while Kevin Bookout added 11 points.
Oklahoma is 25-1 all-time against Texas A&M and has won its last 14 games against the Aggies.