NORMAN, Okla. (AP)—For more than 12 minutes to start the game Monday night, Mississippi Valley State held Oklahoma star Blake Griffin without a shot.
Such a circumstance once might have caused the Sooners to panic, but it seemed instead not to bother them at all—and once Griffin started rolling, he proved hard to stop. The sophomore forward finished with 20 points, 19 rebounds and six steals while leading No. 12 Oklahoma to a 94-53 victory over the Delta Devils in the first round of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Oklahoma (2-0) will play No. 21 Davidson (2-0) on Tuesday night in a matchup of preseason All-Americas—Griffin and the Wildcats’ Stephen Curry. Davidson rolled past James Madison 99-64 on Monday.
“It will be a great game for us in November to get that kind of competition,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. “You get to find out where you are, right now.”
The 6-foot-10 Griffin, who bypassed the NBA draft and returned to Oklahoma for his sophomore season, went 8-of-9 from the field—including five dunks— while posting his 12th career double-double and second of the season.
His 19 rebounds were one better than his previous career high set three nights earlier in a win over American. They were the most by an Oklahoma player since Aaron McGhee had 19 against St. Bonaventure on Dec. 5, 2001. Griffin’s six steals doubled his previous career high.
“You never really have to emphasize rebounding to him,” Capel said of Griffin. “That’s something he has the gift of doing. … Blake is going to get touches all year for us. He’s our best player.”
Mississippi Valley State (0-3) was playing its third game in as many states in four nights, all against major-conference opponents, for its new coach, former Kentucky standout Sean Woods. The Delta Devils—an NCAA tournament team last season—earlier lost by a respectable 16 points to No. 15 Arizona State but managed only nine field goal in a 51-point loss at Washington State.
The Delta Devils’ game against Oklahoma fell somewhere in between. While Oklahoma was in control all the way, Mississippi Valley State’s sometimes ragged playing style seemed to rub off on the Sooners, keeping the game from becoming too lopsided until the late stages.
“It has been a tough road trip and there is nothing bad I can say about our guys right now,” Woods said. “We are battling as hard as we can.”
Oklahoma led 17-2 11 minutes in even through Griffin hadn’t attempted a shot. His first shot, a putback, came with 7:41 left in the first half, but he quickly made up for lost time. Less than two minutes later, freshman guard Willie Warren stole the ball, dribbled behind his back to avoid a defender and passed to Griffin, who dunked.
“We do a good job of fronting the post and get great mid-line help,” Woods said of the Delta Devils’ attempt to limit Griffin’s touches. “If you are going to beat us, you are going to have to hit a lot of jump shots. In the past three games we have played good shooting teams. If we could score, we would be OK, but we have a hard time scoring.”
The Sooners led 35-19 at halftime. Shannon Behling’s basket pulled Mississippi Valley State within 35-21 with 17:49 left, but 20 straight points by the Sooners—capped by another dunk by Griffin—built their lead to 55-21 by the 13:56 mark.
Even though he wasn’t scoring early in the game, Griffin said he never became concerned.
“Anytime you can’t really score inside … what helps is to go after the boards and get offensive rebounds, get defensive rebounds and start the break and run the floor, and eventually (shots) will come,” Griffin said. “You can’t expect to get it every time down the floor.”
Warren added 14 points for Oklahoma, which shot 52.3 percent from the field and had 16 turnovers.
“We still haven’t shot the ball as well I know we’re capable of, yet,” Capel said. “I hope that that day comes tomorrow.”
Behling had 16 points for Mississippi Valley State, while Tashan Newsome added 11. The Delta Devils shot 32.1 percent from the field and committed 25 turnovers.
Mississippi Valley State will play James Madison on Tuesday in a consolation game. The Delta Devils of the Southwestern Athletic Conference still face road games at Montana, Iowa State, Creighton, Kentucky, Houston and Arkansas State before they play their first home game, Dec. 20 against Chattanooga.