NORMAN — Oklahoma junior Steven Pledger is as hot as any guard in the country. He credits adding sweet spots to his game last summer while working out with his father at home in Virginia,
Heading into tonight's game against South Carolina State, Pledger is averaging 19.5 points, which ranks among the top 30 scorers in the nation.
The big news is Pledger is among the national leaders in field goal percentage even though the majority of his shots are from 15 feet or farther.
Pledger is shooting 51.4 percent on 3-pointers, which ranks fourth nationally.
He's shooting 60.4 percent overall, the top field goal percentage of any guard in the country, 22nd overall in a category dominated by centers and power forwards.
“Steven is a really good shooter. And his shot selection has been really good,” said OU coach Lon Kruger. “He's working hard to get open and his teammates are getting him the ball at the right time. He's off to a great start. We need that to continue.”
The Chesapeake, Va., product has added new elements to his game. He's attacking more off the dribble. The biggest factor is his production on the offensive glass, a physical guard who can score on put-backs.
“We kept hearing ‘streaky shooter.' That was probably the perception (coming in),” Kruger said. “But Steve can do so much more than just be a shooter. He can be a good defender. He can be a good rebounder. He can be a good leader on the floor.
“That's why our expectations are very high for Steve.”
Assisted by teammates' screens and the patience to wait for good shots, Pledger's 31 points on only 13 shots in a win against Houston was a career high in regulation. His career high is 38 in an overtime win last season at Iowa State but 10 points came in the extra period.
Against Houston, Pledger was 10-of-13 from the field, 4-of-5 beyond the arc, 7-of-7 at the line.
With four OU players averaging double figures, Pledger consistently scoring near 20 points is an anchor.
“Everyone has a tough game now and then, but it's really good to have someone who scores consistently like he does,” said forward Romero Osby. “He's one of the best shooters I've ever been around. Sometimes you relax when he shoots because you always think it's going in.”
Named the co-Big 12 Player of the Week, Pledger said he expanded his game working out with his father at his old high school and during hot, steamy days on the driveway.
“He probably knows me more than I know myself,” Pledger said. “He told me a couple of sweet spots that he felt I'm really good at getting to — anywhere close to the baseline or in the dead zone between the 3-point line and the paint.”
Because he's off to a torrid start, Pledger will be the focus of opposing teams' defensive game plans. That was evident in the 79-74 win over Houston.
“Each game becomes more difficult because defenses are more conscious of you,” Kruger said. “You have to invest even more to continue getting the same results because defenses are working harder to stop you. But Steve works hard at it.”
And Pledger's reaction to owning the best shooting percentage of any guard in the nation?
“Wow,” Pledger said. “That's a big accomplishment. But I haven't really thought about it much. I just try to go out every game and do whatever I have to do to help us get a win. I'm excited we're off to a great (8-1) start.”
Oklahoma vs. South Carolina State
* When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
* Where: Lloyd Noble Center
* TV: KAUT-43 (Cox channel 16)
* Radio: KOKC-AM (1520)
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
* The Sooners have four players averaging double figures. All four have scored 16 or more points in a game.
* OU sixth man Tyler Neal has averaged 10.0 points since Calvin Newell left the program five games into the season.
* The Bulldogs have lost six of their last seven games.
Pos. - Player - Ht. - Cl. - Pts. - Reb.
G - Sam Grooms - 6-1 - Jr. - 7.0 - 5.1*
G - Steven Pledger - 6-4 - Jr. - 19.5 - 3.9
F - Cameron Clark - 6-6 - So. - 10.0 - 3.4
F - Romero Osby - 6-8 - Jr. - 10.0 - 7.8
C - Andrew Fitzgerald - 6-8 - Jr. - 10.9 - 5.8
South Carolina State (4-7)
Pos. - Player - Ht. - Cl. - Pts. - Reb.
G - Khalif Toombs - 5-9 - Jr. - 12.0 - 3.7*
G - Brandon Riley - 6-2 - Sr. - 20.9 - 4.6
F - Omar Sanders - 6-7 - Sr. - 10.8 - 6.5
F - Aaron Martin - 6-5 - Jr. - 7.1 - 4.4
C - Presano Bell - 6-7 - Sr. - 6.7 - 5.5