DALLAS (AP) — The retooled Oklahoma Sooners passed the first test on Friday in their attempt to return to the NCAA Tournament.
Sophomore guard Buddy Hield scored 18 points and sophomore forward Ryan Spangler added 15 points and a game-high 12 rebounds as the Sooners pulled away in the final six minutes to defeat Alabama 82-73 in the season debut for both teams. The game was the opener of a college basketball tripleheader played at American Airlines Center, home of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks.
Oklahoma lost 68 percent of its scoring from the 2012-13 team that finished 20-12 after a first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament. Among the Sooners' personnel losses were senior forward Romero Osby, the No. 2 scorer in the Big 12 Conference, and junior forward Amath M'Baye, who declared for the NBA draft.
"Most games are going to be decided in kind of that 3- to 6-minute area," said Lon Kruger, Oklahoma's third-year coach. "Someone's going to make a little run and create a margin that they can play with the rest of the way."
"We're just staying confident and making plays for each other," said Hield, Oklahoma's returning leader in scoring, rebounding and assists. "Ryan rebounding, him hustling, tipping back in shots. Just staying aggressive. At first we just settled for jump shots."
Spangler played his first game for the Sooners, returning to his home state after playing one season at Gonzaga.
"We don't want to be down," Spangler said, "but I think it's good for our young team. It just shows how much we can fight back and just stay aggressive."
Alabama is hoping to put together a more impressive pre-conference resume this season than what it compiled a year ago. The Crimson Tide finished tied for second place in the Southeastern Conference but was denied entry into the NCAA Tournament in great measure because of early-season losses. Alabama reached the quarterfinals of the NIT and finished 23-12.
Tide junior guard Algie Key, a junior college transfer playing his first game for Alabama, scored a game-high 20 points. Retin Obasohan added 14 points, tying his career high, and Trevor Releford scored 12 for Alabama. Nick Jacobs and Rodney Cooper shared the Alabama rebounding lead with 10 each.
Alabama used a 10-point run early in the first half to build a 26-10 lead. Releford, the Tide's leading returning scorer from last season, scored five points in the first five minutes but picked up his third foul seven minutes into the game. He sat for the remainder of the half, as Oklahoma regained the lead with 3 minutes left before intermission. Alabama led at halftime 41-40.
Releford committed his fourth foul seven minutes into the second half and returned to the bench for another extended period of time. The Sooners held a 67-66 advantage with 6:04 left in the second half when they set off on their own 10-point run, sparked by a Hield running layup coming off a Tide turnover. When Oklahoma was done, it led 77-67 with 1:07 left. Alabama pulled no closer than eight points.
"He's a very, very big part of our team," fifth-year Tide coach Anthony Grant said of Releford. "We aren't going to make any excuses, but certainly we're a better team when he's on the floor."
Said Key: "I think, as a team, we've got to step up when (Releford) goes out. It's a great opportunity for other guys to step their game up and help the team in any way possible."
Alabama outscored Oklahoma 14-4 on fast-break points but took eight fewer free throws (outscored 19 to 12 at the line) and hit three of 15 3-pointers compared to Oklahoma's 7 for 21.
Oklahoma sophomore guard Isaiah Cousins made the start after missing the Sooners' most recent game exhibition game after turning an ankle in the previous game. Cousins played 23 minutes, collecting seven points and four assists.
Alabama junior guard Levi Randolph, who started 67 games in his first two seasons, came off the bench after missing the Tide's two exhibition games because of a knee injury suffered in mid-October. Randolph played 31 minutes, scoring eight points and grabbing four rebounds.