By DENIS P. GORMAN, ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEW YORK (AP) — Mike Brey couldn’t help but be envious.
He watched as Lon Kruger was able to depend on experienced players in the late moments of a close contest.
It was a luxury Brey had not so long ago.
“An older team played older tonight,” Brey said after Oklahoma outlasted Notre Dame, 85-80, in the first game of the Jimmy V Classic Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
“Oklahoma is an older group and they played older than us.”
Christian James scored a game-high 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Sooners, who improved to 7-1 with their third straight win. Brady Manek chipped in 17. Aaron Calixte finished with 12, and Matt Freeman 11.
“Proud of our guys,” Kruger said. “They hung in there.”
Despite an 18-point performance from TJ Gibbs, Notre Dame dropped to 6-2 with its first loss since Nov. 14. Juwan Durham and John Mooney had 15 each, and DJ Harvey finished with 11.
“The offensive flow is a work in progress for us,” Brey said.
The first-ever meeting between the programs was a back-and-forth affair throughout.
Leading by seven at the start of the second half, Oklahoma extended its lead to 47-36 after Calixte knocked down a jumper.
The Irish replied with a 21-9 run, capped by a Durham dunk to close within 57-56.
Seconds after Durham’s jam, a James layup allowed Oklahoma to push its lead to three, and the Sooners would lead by as many as seven following a Freeman 3. But the Irish would not go away, cutting the deficit to 78-77 after Prentiss Hubb’s layup with 2:26 left.
That was as close as Notre Dame would come.
“We’ve been blessed with upperclassmen in all 20 of my years until this year,” Brey said. “I just (have) to remember to be patient and keep teaching and let guys blossom.”
James’ jumper pushed the lead back to three, and he drilled a 3 to give the Sooners an 83-78 lead.
“They fought and battled,” Kruger said.
Oklahoma outscored Notre Dame 12-6 in the final 4:26 of the first half and led 43-36 at halftime.
NOTRE DAME: The NCAA ranked the Irish as the third best 3-point shooting team in men’s college basketball since the turn of the century, trailing only Duke and Belmont. Notre Dame’s marksmanship behind the arc did not carry over to Madison Square Garden, as the Irish shot 28.0 (7 for 25) percent from 3.
OKLAHOMA: Coaches value having a go-to scorer and scoring depth. In his ninth year at Oklahoma, Kruger appears to have both. Entering Tuesday night’s nationally televised game, senior guard Christian James led the team with 19.1 points per game, while Jamuni McNeace (9.9 PPG), Miles Reynolds (9.1 PPG), Aaron Calixte (9.0 PPG) and Brady Manek (8.9 PPG) have also contributed offensively.
NOTRE DAME: Travels to UCLA Saturday night.
OKLAHOMA: Hosts Wichita State Saturday.
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