Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

January 30, 2014

Spangler's surge has Sooners soaring

With about a minute remaining Monday night, Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger sent walk-on forward C.J. Cole onto the floor for Ryan Spangler. The sole reason was to let Spangler could receive a standing ovation from the Lloyd Noble Center crowd.

It was the only thing the least bit theatrical about Spangler’s 15-point and career-high 17-rebound performance in the 23rd-ranked Sooners’ 88-76 victory over No. 8 Oklahoma State.

His 25 minutes on the floor was pure grit.

“Ryan has kind of been the cornerstone for our growth in the toughness area. I think we’re getting tougher. I think we’re getting big strides in that area,” OU coach Lon Kruger said after the Sooners claimed their fourth straight win and improved to 17-4 overall and claimed sole possession of second place in the Big 12 Conference.

All signs point toward OU having become a more complete team over its last six games. Monday’s win marked the fifth straight game OU has held an opponent to 42 percent shooting or less. The Cowboys shot just 40 percent. It was hard for OSU to get in a flow because, especially in the second half, Spangler’s rebounding effort.

But the Sooners didn’t struggle when Spangler picked up two fouls in the opening 10 minutes. Spangler spent most of the first half on the bench, yet OU never gave up the lead.

They figured out a way to copy Spangler’s mentality even when he wasn’t on the floor. Reserve forward D.J. Bennett scored four points, blocked two shots and altered two more during that time. Tyler Neal came off the bench score a season-high 15 points. Most of it was in the first half while Spangler sat.

“They do it in practice every day. I just have trust in them,” Spangler said of Bennett and Neal. “Tyler is going to knock down open shots. D.J. is getting in a rhythm now this year rebounding, getting it back, blocking shots. I have no problem sitting on the bench because I trust them to do what they need to do.”

The Sooners received a very good inclination of the kind of impact Spangler would have when he redshirted last season. He spent every practice banging around with then-OU forwards Romero Osby and Amath M’Baye. They saw a guy who was highly competitive and would do whatever it took to win.

With every game this season, that mentality has soaked into the Sooners’ DNA just a little bit more.

“It is hard to find words to describe how much he has helped this team this year,” Neal said. “That was really obvious last year, even before he was on the court. I think that was a big part of (Romero Osby) being so good and so effective for us last year. All credit to (Osby), but Ryan really helped improve him and I think they made each other better last year. I think we are reaping the benefits of that this year.”

The Big 12 may very be the best conference in college basketball this season. The main reasons are good teams and wealth of projected first-round picks for the 2014 NBA draft.

Spangler isn’t one of those projected to light up the draft board. He’s just a 6-foot-8 sophomore that’s playing much bigger than his size that has helped the Sooners exceed all preseason expectations.

“We’re growing. We’re feeding off of Ryan’s toughness in there,” Kruger said. “I think the guys appreciate what he brings every day in practice and every night and we’re trying to move in that direction.”

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