WASHINGTON — Playing a half-hour from its Fairfax, Va. campus, George Mason figured to have a home-court advantage Sunday against Oklahoma in the BB&T Classic. But on a dreary, cold, snowy, day in Washington, the game was played in front of a sparse, listless crowd.
The atmosphere did little, however, to dim the spirits of the Sooners. Led by Cameron Clark and propelled by an overwhelming rebounding advantage, Oklahoma rolled to an 81-66 victory in its first appearance in the event.
Clark scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, helping Oklahoma to a 51-29 rebounding edge. Gonzaga transfer Ryan Spangler scored 13 points and had a game-high 13 rebounds. Sophomore guard Buddy Hield added 12 points and 10 boards.
In winning its fourth straight game, Oklahoma (8-1) made only 1 of 12 attempts from beyond the arc and committed 19 turnovers. But the Sooners compensated with 58.3 percent marksmanship from the field and huge advantages on points in the paint, 50-20, and on fast-break points, 12-0.
"One of our goals going into every game is to out-rebound the every team," Spangler said. "If you do, you get easy points."
It was another positive step for Oklahoma, which lost 68 percent of its scoring from last year's NCAA tournament team, but appears rebuilt in coach Lon Kruger's third season. Last year, Kruger did it largely with players he inherited. This year's team is made up mostly of players he brought to Norman.
Oklahoma led all the way, getting little resistance from George Mason (5-4), which was led by Bryon Allen, who had 15 points, but needed 17 shots to get there.
Guarded tightly by the 6-foot-7 Clark, George Mason guard Sherrod Wright hit only 2 of 9 shots, scoring seven points, 10 below his team-leading average. The Patriots shot just 30.2 percent.
"I thought our activity was pretty good defensively and pretty sound," Kruger said.
Oklahoma was sharp from the start, scoring on its first four possessions - two mid-range jumpers by Clark and two layups by Spangler -- to take a lead that it never relinquished. Later in the first half, Oklahoma went on a 13-4 run with six of the points coming from sophomore guard Isaiah Cousins as the Sooners grabbed their biggest lead of the first half, 32-18.
When the half was over, Oklahoma's desire was evidenced by 15 second-chance points to one for George Mason.
"Early in the game, apparently they were just quicker to the ball, especially on the backboards," Hewitt said. "We've been rebounding the ball pretty well and we counted on that coming into the game being one of our things we could take advantage of, the backboard. But obviously we were wrong, and I was wrong."
George Mason showed life at the start of the second half as Johnny Williams scored on a reverse layup. The Patriots held the Sooners without a point for nearly four minutes, but couldn't take advantage on the offensive end. George Mason trailed 38-31 when Spangler blocked a shot, grabbed the loose ball and threw an outlet pass to Clark for a breakaway dunk that ignited a 10-point run.
In the spurt, Clark added two free throws and a tip-in. Sophomore guard Je'lon Hornbeak followed with a baseline runner in transition and Hield had a fast-break dunk as Oklahoma took a 48-31 lead with 14 minutes left.
When George Mason momentarily disrupted Oklahoma's rhythm with full-court pressure and cut the lead to 12 midway through the half, Clark had the answer again, hitting a mid-range jumper and two free throws. Freshman Jordan Woodard followed with the Sooners' lone 3-pointer of the game as the lead swelled to 62-43.
"We didn't handle the pressure very well at all. (We) hadn't been pressed that much on the year," Kruger said. "It's something we clearly need to work on and be better prepared to handle next time. But when you get in a game like this and are able to learn from it and still not pay for it with a loss, you feel good about that."
There was little silver lining for George Mason.
"They just wanted it more," Hewitt said. "The biggest thing to me is to see them get 17 offensive rebounds and 50 points in the paint. That's really disheartening to our team. But we'll regroup. We're nine games into a 30-game season."