The University of Oklahoma Sooners may have only been in the country for 24 hours but they still proved far too good for the New Zealand Premier team winning 133-91 at Auckland Grammar School on Sunday.
The Premier team put up a good showing early on but were overpowered in the second half by the 2016 NCAA Tournament semi-finalists. Kiwi Matt Freeman scored 8 points for the Sooners who got their four game tour of Australasia off to a winning start.
The Canterbury Under 23 Championship winning trio of Sam Smith, Joe Cook-Green and Taylor Britt combined well in the opening stages as they, Nick Barrow and Dominique Kelman-Poto gave the Premiers a rather unexpected 12-0 start.
Lightning quick point guard Trae Young exhibited his penetrative powers and Brady Manek his three point prowess as Oklahoma found their scoring rhythm at the back end of the first period.
Finnish forward Hannes Polla, along with Freeman the only other none American on the Sooners roster, capped the strong visitors comeback to snatch a 33-30 quarter time lead.
A drive and basket from hometown favourite Freeman drew applause from both sets of supporters.
Texas Wesleyan University bound Smith continued to impress for the hosts, as did Brady Manek for the Sooners.
Local Auckland Grammar seniors Thomas Whyte and Tom Higgins joined the fray – Higgins finishing nicely in the paint but the Premiers down 66-55 in an entertaining first half.
American College teams are permitted 10 practices before overseas tours but that was ten more than the Premier team had had but the first half showing belied that fact, Sooners coach Lon Kruger complimentary of the Premiers effort.
“It was a very good to battle early, I thought New Zealand opened the ball game very well, very sharp and obviously well coached and knew how to play. I thought our guys got a little more confident as the game went on but a really good first game for us and really appreciate the great crowd, great atmosphere and great opponents, said Kruger.
Cook-Green and Britt combined for scores to open the second half but a spectacular drive from Young countered that. Denhym Brooke scored with a put back before the big Finn Polla stretched the Sooners lead beyond twenty points.
The third school student in the Premier team, Rosmini’s Kruz Perrott-Hunt, nailed a corner three – Thomas Whyte connected from the head of the key – but the Prems trailed 100-76 at three-quarter time.
Super City Rangers forward Nick Barrow and Kelman-Poto continued to do sterling work in the paint but the Sooners got rolling in the fourth entertaining the crowd of over 600 with an impressive display that showcased their speed and athleticism.
Freeman finished with 8 points in a performance that pleased his coach.
“Very happy for Matt, a terrific young guy, great great family, they have been so supportive and for Matt to come home to Auckland and to have family and friends here and to then go out and play well, make shots. I’m very pleased for him,” added Kruger.
After reaching the NCAA Tournament final four in 2016 the Sooners struggled last season going 5-13 in Conference play and 11-20 overall. Kruger feels the tour is timely for his team.
“The timing for this group is especially good with new guys coming in (three freshmen) and guys returning who will have enhanced roles over a year ago.”
“Culturally for the guys to travel to different parts of the world and see the hospitality and the friendliness of the people here. After the game on the court mingling with the young people especially is a big part of the trip.”
The Sooners will get to do some sightseeing in Auckland on Monday before heading to Sydney with games lined up against Sutherland Sharks, Sydney Kings and Cairns Taipans to complete their four game tour.
NZ Premiers 91 –
Smith (Canterbury / Brown Mackie College, USA) 24 pts
Kelman-Poto (Counties Manukau) 18pts/8rebs
Britt (Canterbury) 13pts/4rebs/5assists
Cook-Green (Canterbury / Northwest Florida State, USA) 10pts/7rebs/8assists)
Whyte (Auckland Grammar School) 6pts
Pierantoni (North Harbour) 6pts
Brooke (University of Hawaii /North Harbour) 4pts
Barrow (Super City Rangers) 4pts
Perrott-Hunt (Rosmini College) 4pts
Higgins (Auckland Grammar School) 2pts
Oklahoma Sooners 133 – Young 21, Manek 17, Khadeem 16, James 13, Odomes 11, Freeman 8