NORMAN — Ryan Spangler never dropped his game face.
Not when it was obvious Oklahoma would continue its Bedlam supremacy over Oklahoma State at the Lloyd Noble Center.
Not when coach Lon Kruger took out Spangler in the final seconds to a rousing and warranted ovation from the Sooner faithful.
Not when the final buzzer sounded on an 88-76 win.
Only during a celebratory lap around the court — and a few high fives with some giddy, goofy Sooner football players in attendance — did the serious give way to a smile. The hard became happy.
On a night when the Sooners continued to assert themselves as a serious player in the Big 12 basketball race while putting the Cowboys in an almost impossible position to win the league, no one had more of a say in the outcome than Spangler. He notched his league-leading ninth double-double of the season. He had 15 points, but even more impressive, he had a career-high 17 rebounds.
Felt like 47.
And he did that despite playing only 25 minutes. Foul trouble sidelined him in the first half, and while D.J. Bennett and Co. filled in admirably, they are no substitute for Spangler.
Check out this insane statistic: Spangler has had at least 14 rebounds in four of the last six games.
“Things are just fallin' my way,” Spangler said, then broke into one of those grins that was absent on the court. “No, I'm just kiddin'.
“Hustle. I just try to outhustle people. I think that'll put me in the right position to get the ball. Right now, they're fallin' in my hands.”
That might undersell what Spangler is doing. Yes, Monday night he was going against a depleted Cowboy frontline. Michael Cobbins is gone, Kamari Murphy is fighting an uphill battle, and try as they might, undersized guys such as LeBryan Nash and Leyton Hammonds can only do so much in the post.
But Spangler absolutely ate up the Cowboys.
Nash took the brunt of it. The swingman has been on a good run lately, but he found tough sledding when he drove to the basket and managed only eight points on four shots. What's more, Spangler helped force Nash into foul trouble that would ultimately limit him to 17 minutes.
Spangler was an absolute bear for Nash and the Cowboys to contend with, especially on the boards. He created so much space in the paint that sometimes it looked like he was the only one allowed to go for the rebound.
He contends he was born with that nose for the ball.
“I think God gave me that ... when it leaves a shooter's hand, to be able to see where it's going to come off the rim,” Spangler said. “And I've been getting used to my teammates and how they shoot. That's why I'm rebounding more lately.”
And the times when a Cowboy contended for a ball that Spangler wanted, he battled and scrapped and did whatever he had to do.
“Ryan's kind of been the cornerstone for our growth in the toughness area,” Kruger said. “I think we're getting tougher. I think we've made big strides in that area. ... We're kind of feeding off of Ryan's toughness in there.”
Sooner guard Tyler Neal said: “It's hard to find words to describe how much he's helped this team. That was really obvious last year even before he was on the court.”
Spangler sat out as a redshirt last season, of course, after transferring from Gonzaga. Part of the reason he made the decision to leave there and come to OU was the chance to have nights like Monday. He grew up in the Bridge Creek school district as a lifelong Sooner fan. He went to Bedlam numerous times as a kid, though he remembers going to more football Bedlams than basketball Bedlams because his dad was a football coach.
Spangler brings a football mentality to the basketball court.
The dude is relentless.
And that game face? It's relentless, too, though Spangler insists that in the huddle with his teammates during games, he does crack a smile every now and again.
“I can't let other people see me smile,” he said.
The game face is a serious matter.
For opponents, so is Spangler.
Jenni Carlson can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.