NORMAN — D.J. Bennett's game was in a pretty good place when Oklahoma returned from a trip to Europe in August.
But a partially torn tendon in his foot early in preseason camp derailed him early in the season.
Thursday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, the junior forward showed why Sooners coach Lon Kruger was thrilled with Bennett before the injury.
He had nine points, five blocks and three rebounds in Oklahoma's 78-56 win over the Islanders at Lloyd Noble Center.
Bennett said he wasn't sure if he was back to the level he was before the injury.
“The main thing with me is just trying to stay in the gym longer, get extra shots up and gain my confidence back and do what I know I can do,” Bennett said. “It's definitely getting better.”
On a team with limited depth in the frontcourt, Bennett's progression — especially as a shot-blocker — is something that's critical for the Sooners' success.
“With the rules the way they are, it's harder to guard the ball,” Kruger said. “The ball is getting keyed in to the paint more just because of the way the rules are. Having a shot-blocker behind you takes on a greater significance more and more each year. That's going to become even more obvious.
“That's why we need D.J. to keep progressing and keep getting more comfortable.”
Bennett's point and block totals were career highs.
It wasn't the most fluid game offensively for the Sooners, who came in averaging nearly 90 points per game. But Oklahoma wasn't threatened much in front of a crowd of 2,300 on a snowy afternoon.
OU forced 20 turnovers, converting those into 22 points as they continued to push the tempo.
“We are just trying to be active on defense and bring up our activity every day,” said Buddy Hield, who led the Sooners with 18 points. “We want to get stops and run out and score the basketball. That's what we are trying to do every day. We can get as many turnovers as we need and that gives us opportunities to score the basketball.”
Former Southeast standout Rashawn Thomas, a freshman, made his season debut for Texas A&M-Corpus Christi after suffering a broken jaw before the season.
Thomas, wearing a mask to protect the jaw, scored 12 points and had 10 rebounds to lead the Islanders.