NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — A five-game losing streak early in the season is behind Oklahoma now.
The Sooners are finding ways to win, averting one nonconference scare after another with Big 12 play about to start.
Steven Pledger scored 19 points, Cade Davis added 11 points and a career-high 12 rebounds and Oklahoma ran away from Maryland-Eastern Shore in the final 11 minutes for a 73-49 victory Monday night.
The Sooners (8-6), who have won all eight of their home games and lost all six played elsewhere, start Big 12 play by hosting No. 16 Texas A&M on Saturday.
“It’s definitely a new season,” Pledger said. “Everybody’s 0-0 now.”
After allowing the Hawks (3-10) to wipe away a 15-point deficit and tie the game at 39, Oklahoma responded by scoring the next 14 points to reclaim control. Eastern Shore went 61/2 minutes without scoring while the Sooners pulled away.
“We just knew that we were turning the ball over — unforced turnovers, just throwing it all over the place — and we had kind of gotten away from playing defense and things like that,” Davis said. “We knew if we buckled back down and did the things that we did early in the first half that we could build that lead back up.”
Hillary Haley led Maryland-Eastern Shore with 17 points despite 6-for-18 shooting, and Kevin White scored 10.
After climbing back into the game with successful drives to the basket by White and JoJo Swift, the Hawks started settling for 3-pointers and long jumpers that didn’t connect. Eastern Shore missed 3-pointers on four of its next five possessions after tying the game and finished 3 for 20 from beyond the arc.
“The stats, in my mind, aren’t very indicative of our defense. They didn’t shoot a great percentage, but I don’t think it was because of our defense,” Sooners coach Jeff Capel said. “I just think they missed shots.
“We really have to get back to playing solid defense like we were before Christmas.”
Pledger hit the go-ahead 3 from the right side for the Sooners with 10:57 left, and Davis had a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws in the stretch. C.J. Washington’s short jumper made it 53-39 with 6:26 remaining.
Cameron Clark had 14 points and nine rebounds and Andrew Fitzgerald had 11 points for Oklahoma despite playing just 22 minutes due to foul trouble.
The Sooners shot 58 percent against a defense that ranked among the bottom five in the nation by allowing opponents to make more than half of their shots, but allowed the Hawks to stick around by committing 17 turnovers.
Oklahoma has beaten Eastern Shore the last three seasons by a combined 94 points.
Capel ticked off a laundry list of issues that the Sooners carry into conference play: a regressing defense, Fitzgerald’s recurring foul trouble, difficulties stopping dribble penetration and occasional turnover problems. Yet his team heads into the Big 12 season with some momentum after three straight wins.
“I’m excited. Obviously, we know it’s a challenge but it feels good to have won five out of six … and to do it different ways,” Capel said.
“We know our league is very, very tough and it starts out very tough for us with a top-20 ranked team in Texas A&M. But we have to protect our home, we have to play with urgency, we have to get back to doing all the little things.”
Oklahoma built a 27-12 lead late in the first half following a run of eight points in a row, featuring Clark’s third alley-oop dunk of the half.
Haley and Mark Robertson hit 3-pointers as Eastern Shore responded with its own 8-0 run, and the Hawks were within 33-28 after Freddy Obame Obame scored underneath to close the first half.
Eastern Shore finally tied it when Haley hit the team’s only 3-pointer in 10 second-half attempts and Tyler Hines followed it with a layup with 12:35 to play.
Then the Sooners came alive, just as they did after Central Arkansas came back to forge a tie twice in the final 5 minutes of their previous victory.
“We did some good things leading up to Big 12 play and we’ve just got to know that we can’t be satisfied with what have and what we’ve done because it’s a whole new level of play once we go into conference play,” Davis said. “We’ve just got to stay humble and hungry.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)