NORMAN, Oklahoma – Northwestern State post Kendal Coleman produced a career-high 19 points Tuesday as the Demons slugged it out early with Oklahoma in the season opener.
But the Sooners heated up in the second half en route to a 77-59 win as OU shot 65 percent from the field to pull away from a game Demon squad.
NSU led throughout stretches of the first half and cut OU’s three-point halftime edge to one before the Sooners turned on the burners with a 15-1 run.
Coleman, who shot 9-of-12 and added a team-high six rebounds, teamed up with senior center Larry Owens to match Oklahoma early in head coach Porter Moser’s Sooner debut.
The post duo combined for 10 of NSU’s first 12 points as the Demons led 12-10, forcing Oklahoma turnovers on defense. Owens finished with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting, marking his second double-digit performance at Oklahoma after scoring 16 points as a freshman in 2016-17.
“It’s a tough matchup, but I felt that Kendal and Larry got a lot better tonight and showed their ability,” said NSU coach Mike McConathy. “We’ve got to guard better and keep people in front of us, but I felt like we competed well overall tonight.”
The Sooners defense clamped down in the middle part of the half, holding NSU scoreless for 7:21 as OU put together a meandering 10-0 run (all paint points) to lead 20-12.
But NSU hung tough, using its eight forced turnovers and 19-18 rebounding edge to keep Oklahoma from running away. The Demons held the advantage on the boards (34-32) against a bulky Sooners front.
“We had 29 points and nine rebounds between Owens and Coleman, but the biggest struggle we had is we had inopportune turnovers even though we had just 13,” said NSU coach Mike McConathy. “We had some bad shots that really counted like turnovers, and what hurt us the most was poor shot selection during critical times.
“We guarded their stuff extremely well, but we didn’t guard well man-to-man. They whipped us to the bucket. That’s a tough team in Oklahoma, and with their physicality, you have to make them go over the top of you.”
Coleman was NSU’s offensive oasis, scoring six points on three straight possessions to spark a 13-8 run to shave OU’s lead to 28-25 at halftime.
NSU scored the last five points of the half on a Zurabi Zhgenti 3-pointer and a Cedric Garrett bucket.
Zhgenti contributed eight points and two of NSU’s three 3-pointers (3-of-17 as a team).
“We won’t shoot that poorly from 3-point range again,” said McConathy, whose team 44 percent overall and 54 percent in the second half. “I thought we competed really well, getting the ball, pushing the ball early even though we didn’t get many buckets out of it.
“We rebounded and pushed, and we gave up only three offensive rebounds. We gave up just 14 points on our turnovers and we scored 12 on theirs, so that’s a nice surprise.”
Coleman had 14 of his 19 points by the opening minutes of the second half as his bucket sliced OU’s lead to 28-27.
But OU’s Jalen Hill scored six of his team-high 15 points as part of the Sooners’ 15-1 run to lead 43-28 and led by as many as 26 (69-43).
The Sooners turned up their transition offense to build the lead.
Twelve different Demons saw action in the opener, including 11 in the first half of a competitive contest.
McConathy saved minutes across the board as NSU heads to Tulsa for a Wednesday tip at 7 p.m., which will be broadcast on ESPN+ with available audio on 94.9 The River, nsudemons.com and the NSU app.
“They are going to isolate guys and try to beat us on some drag action, so we have to play better defense than we did (Tuesday),” McConathy said.