Unbeaten Sooners Defeat VCU, 81-70

Athletics Communications
By Athletics Communications
University of Oklahoma

Dec. 20, 2008 

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) --  With Blake Griffin putting up gaudy numbers, it didn't take long for a shooting slump to knock Tony Crocker into the background at Oklahoma.

It took even less time to show that he's ready to be a force again for the fourth-ranked Sooners (11-0).

Crocker scored a career-high 26 points and Oklahoma got a win for coach Jeff Capel against the team that gave him his coaching start, beating Virginia Commonwealth 81-70 on Saturday night.

"Even when he was struggling, I still believed in him so much because I've seen him do so many good things. I knew it was a matter of time," Capel said.

"Hopefully tonight's game was the breakout for him to get him going."

A lackluster start to the season had Crocker looking more like a role player on a Sooners team that featured Griffin, a preseason All-America selection at forward, averaging 23 points and an NCAA-best 15 rebounds, and Willie Warren coming on strong in his freshman season.

Crocker shed that label by going 5-for-6 from 3-point range and scoring more than twice as many points as he had in any other game this season. But he was fine with just playing his part in the Sooners' best start since going 12-0 in 1989-90.

"As long as we're winning, that's all that matters," Crocker said.

To get this win, the Sooners needed a big night from Crocker. Griffin finished with 18 points, but was on the bench with Oklahoma trailing late in the first half.

That's when Crocker converted a three-point play to put Oklahoma up 34-32 and then added two 3-pointers from the same spot on the right wing as the Sooners scored the final eight points of the first half for a 42-33 lead.

The second half started with another Crocker 3-pointer, and Oklahoma extended its lead to 63-46 after he hit yet another from the left wing with 11:26 to play to finish off a 10-0 surge.

"It felt good out there. It always feels good when the shots are falling," Crocker said. "They pressured a lot and scrambled, and that left a lot of people open."

Crocker, who was the team's third-leading scorer last season, had hit double figures only once in Oklahoma's first seven games before scoring at least 10 in each of their last four.

"I've said all along I think we have good players. They may not have been playing well early in season, and Blake's numbers were out of this world, so those guys weren't maybe looked at as much," Capel said. "But I think we have other good players, and hopefully at some point we can get everyone clicking on same page. I think that's when we can become a better basketball team."

Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford watched from a front-row seat across from the Sooners' bench and alongside unlikely neighbor Kevin Durant, the former Texas basketball star who now plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The two talked some during the opening game of the All-College Classic between Oklahoma State and Rhode Island, and then sat a few seats apart for much of the second game.

Larry Sanders scored 16 before fouling out to lead the Rams (7-4), and freshman Bradford Burgess had a career-high 15 points. Reigning Colonial Athletic Association player of the year Eric Maynor, who had been averaging 24 points, was held to 15 on 5-for-19 shooting and had eight turnovers.

Maynor was recruited to VCU by Capel, and the two still keep in touch three years after the coach left for Oklahoma. After the game, Capel stopped to give Maynor a hug as the teams were lined up to shake hands.

"Me and him, we've got a good relationship. I wished him the best. He wished me the best," Maynor said. "We're going to go our separate ways right now."

Maynor, who matched his second-lowest scoring output of the season, said he didn't think emotions were a factor but instead that the Rams got away from the staples that have made them successful.

"We came out and we didn't defend the way we we're supposed to defend, and it showed. I think we played basketball for 18 minutes in the first half, and then they went on a run," Maynor said.

Leading up to the game, Capel said he wasn't looking forward to facing the school where he got his coaching break. He didn't have a choice, though. The game was required as part of Capel's contract at VCU, which called for the Rams to receive a home-and-home series against any school that hired him away.

Capel said it was "weird" to face VCU, where he won 79 games in four seasons and led the Rams to the NCAA tournament in 2004. And it was especially hard to face Maynor.

"He's really special to me. I believed in him when he was a junior in high school and to see what he's become, I'm so happy for him. I'm really proud of him," Capel said.

"He didn't have a great game tonight and hopefully our defense had a little bit to do with that."