NORMAN, Okla. (AP)—The first time, Blake Griffin hesitated, seemingly unwilling to try a 3-point shot. But the next time, with Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel encouraging him from the bench, Griffin launched from behind the arc.
Griffin’s first career 3-pointer came with a little more than 5 minutes left in the 12th-ranked Sooners’ 83-54 rout of American on Friday night, but Capel hopes it sends a message to future opponents that Oklahoma’s 6-foot-10 preseason All-American forward is a better shooter than they might think.
First, though, Capel had to convince Griffin, who entered with only two previous career 3-point attempts, both misses.
“It felt really good,” Griffin said of the 3-pointer. “At first … I passed them up. Coach told me to shoot it and I kind of looked at him like, ‘Are you sure?’ He said, ‘Can you make it?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.”’
Griffin, who opted to return for his sophomore season with the Sooners instead of jumping into the NBA, finished with 24 points and a career-high 18 rebounds for Oklahoma, which shot 53.8 percent from the field and won for the 22nd time in its last 24 season openers.
He wasn’t perfect, going only 5-of-14 from the free-throw line, but he finished 9-of-11 from the field, showing an array of shots—a short jumper facing the basket, a jump hook and the 3-pointer—in addition to three dunks. His dominance on the boards allowed him to record his 11th career double-double in 34 games.
“He can shoot the ball,” Capel said. “It’s something he’s worked on. … He’s really worked to expand his game to be more than just a dunker.”
American (0-1) returned three starters—including Patriot League preseason player of the year Garrison Carr—from a team that last season went 21-12, won at Maryland during the regular season and pushed Tennessee in a first-round NCAA tournament game. The Eagles also were the preseason pick to win the conference title.
But they struggled from the outset against a quicker, taller Oklahoma team picked by Big 12 coaches as the conference’s preseason favorite. The loss was American’s worst since Dec. 5, 2005, when the Eagles fell 75-35 to George Mason.
“That was simply an old-fashioned butt-kicking,” coach Jeff Jones said. “They beat us about every way you can beat a team. … They were even more physically imposing than we thought they were coming in.”
American missed its first 10 and 16 of its first 18 shots and didn’t make a 2-point basket until Carr scored with 7:37 left in the first half, cutting Oklahoma’s lead to 21-12.
The Sooners answered with 10 straight points, including two 3-pointers by Cade Davis and a three-point play by forward Taylor Griffin, and kept a double-digit lead the rest of the way.
“One of the things Cade does, every time he’s in the game … he just gives you energy,” Capel said. “It just feels like a little bit of electricity, a jolt to the team.”
Oklahoma went 15-of-24 from the field and recorded eight steals while taking a 47-24 halftime lead. Blake Griffin already had a double-double by halftime with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
About his only frustration was at the free-throw line, where he shot 58.9 percent as a freshman.
“I felt like I had gotten considerably better at the free-throw line this year from last year,” he said. “I think part of it may have been nerves. I was pretty pumped up for this game. I just have to do a better job of staying calm and going through my routine and doing it how I do every day, like I do in practice or when I shoot free throws.”
Oklahoma extended its lead to as many as 34 points in the second half. Of American’s 15 turnovers, 13 came on steals, including four by Taylor Griffin, who also blocked three shots, scored eight points and had five rebounds.
“We didn’t do a good enough job of protecting the basketball,” Jones said.
Blake Griffin’s final three baskets were crowd-pleasers. With 8:38 left, he spun around two defenders on the baseline and dunked, then caught an alley-oop pass from Austin Johnson and dunked again. He followed that with the 3-pointer.
Davis finished with 11 points. Freshman guard Willie Warren added 10 and Johnson had eight assists.
Brian Gilmore led American with 16 points. Carr finished with 11 on 4-of-15 shooting.
“I feel good about this win,” Capel said. “We beat a good team. American is a team that is going to win a lot of games, the kind of team you see in the first round of the NCAA tournament.”