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Tyler Neal improving as OU's sixth man

NORMAN, Okla. -- Calvin Newell's decision to leave Oklahoma's basketball program put the Sooners in a tough position. Newell was averaging 13 points per game as the team's top scorer off the bench when he announced his intention to transfer in early December.

His departure left the Sooners searching for someone on the second unit to provide a scoring boost.

Tyler Neal appears prepared to fill the void.

The Sooners' 78-63 win over Arkansas on Saturday is a perfect example of the impact Neal can have when he is aggressive. The sophomore finished with a career-high 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field. He added five rebounds and four assists in 28 minutes of action.

"As a bench player, in kind of a sixth-man type role, you always have to be ready to come in and do what you can to help the team," Neal said after his career day.

As the Sooners get deeper into their first season under coach Lon Kruger, Neal is beginning to understand that OU needs him to be aggressive and look to score, especially with Big 12 play on the horizon.

"I have to find the happy medium where you're not being selfish and you're still playing team ball," Neal said. "At the same time Calvin got a lot of shots up, and it wasn't necessarily selfish on his part. I think about that, but still have to focus on staying within the offense and letting it come to me."

After Neal's point production against Arkansas, Kruger and guard Steven Pledger both praised his aggressiveness because they know he has the ability to help the Sooners score, and his scoring will be needed if OU hopes to make a splash in conference play.

"It was great to see him aggressive, attacking," Kruger said. "He can do that, and he'll keep doing that more and more."

Before Newell's departure, Neal was content with making the extra pass and only shooting the ball when he got a wide-open look within the flow of OU's offense. He had just one game with more than three field goal attempts in the Sooners' first five games.

Since Dec. 1, Neal has been looking for his shot more with the understanding that a contested shot from him will be a necessity at times this season. Against Sacramento State and Arkansas, two of the three games OU has played without Newell, Neal combined for 16 shot attempts.

"He'll grow into that," Kruger said. "In practice the last week, he has been more aggressive and a little more assertive. We want that and we need that."

At 6-foot-7, Neal can cause problems for opposing defenses. He can play shooting guard and both forward positions, while helping to extend defenses with his shooting.

"It's something Tyler can do," Kruger said. "He can score a lot of different ways, and he is starting to put the ball on the floor and attack a little more."

The quicker Neal gets comfortable being the No. 1 bench scoring option, the better for Kruger's squad. Sometimes a contested shot by Neal will be a better option than a open shot from someone else.

"It's not going to happen overnight," Kruger said. "But as he gets more comfortable with that, we want that [aggressiveness]."

Brandon Chatmon covers University of Oklahoma sports and recruiting for SoonerNation. He can be reached at bchatmonespn@gmail.com.

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