NORMAN — The new-look Oklahoma men's basketball team doesn't have a lot of size. But coach Jeff Capel reminded players at halftime of the Sooners' exhibition game that to reach their potential, they can't rely on perimeter shots.
After being outscored in the paint in the first half by undersized Division II Northern State, the Sooners attacked the basket in the second half to rally to a 75-64 win Tuesday night at Lloyd Noble Center.
"We were so out of character from how we've been in practice," Capel said. "We've been very unselfish in practice. The ball was moving, being reversed. In the first half we took so many 3's, some off one pass or no pass. That's not the way we want to play.
"Certainly we're a team that's going to have to make perimeter shots. But when we got penetration, kicked it out and the ball got reversed, those are the 3's we made. ... We will make shots. I'm not worried about that. We're a good shooting team. But we have to be able to drive the ball, too."
A good example was sophomore guard Steven Pledger. Last season, Pledger's game was 3-pointers. Tuesday, Pledger scored a game-high 23 points and made only one 3-pointer.
"I've been working on that all spring, summer and fall," Pledger said. "When I'm at home, I work out with my father. We did a lot of going-to-the-rack moves, one dribble, two dribbles, get to the basket or pull up for jumpers."
In the first half, the Sooners were outscored 11-9 in the paint and shot 33.3 percent. Half their shots were 3-pointers.
In the second half, OU shot 55.5 percent and attempted only two shots beyond the arc.
"That's one thing coach said to us, that we were settling for too many 3's, that we needed to work inside and play inside-out," said senior guard Cade Davis. "That made a huge difference for us."
Northern State, from Aberdeen, S.D., returns four of its top five scorers from a team that finished 13-14 last season.
The Sooners trailed much of the second half. Pledger scored 14 points in the final seven minutes to help turn a 55-51 deficit into a double-digit win.
"We did a great job battling adversity for a team with so many new guys that haven't been through anything, yet," Capel said. "Our guys kept fighting. And we had some guys on the bench step up and give us some good minutes."
Capel said it will take time for eight eligible newcomers to mesh with three returning players, but he was encouraged.
"This was a really good game for this young group to be in this type of game situation," Capel said. "I was actually pleased with a lot of things we did. We have a lot we need to work on, but some guys stepped up and made some big plays for us."