SWEET VICTORY: Hield, OU advance

Sooners knock off No. 11 Dayton to help Kruger make NCAA history

COLUMBUS, Ohio – There are great plays to be made throughout any basketball game, and Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield has found a habit of finding those – a big shot or a big play elsewhere when the usually consistent shooter isn’t quite himself.

Hield saw one Sunday night after his poor play put Oklahoma in a compromised situation.

The clock ticked down to one minute left in the Sooners’ second-round NCAA Tournament game against No. 11 Dayton, and Hield didn’t set his man up well enough on a cut.

A turnover at half court gave Flyers’ guard Darrell Davis a one-on-one opportunity with Hield. Davis put the ball in front of his body, and Hield sent back a shot that would have pulled upset-minded Dayton within one basket.

Just a few minutes later, Hield’s smile was as big as it has ever been as he walked around the court inside Nationwide Arena – his thumbs in the arm opening of his jersey and lifting the crimson Oklahoma up off his chest.

Hield and No. 3 Oklahoma are moving on to the Sweet 16 with a 72-66 victory.

“I know there’s going to be a big play somewhere down the line,” Hield said. “. . . I had to make a play on the ball. It was a good hustle play.”

Sitting by his locker surrounded by members of the media, Hield thumbed through a cavalcade of unread text messages on his iPhone, smiled and laughed when asked about the play that changed the game.

After Hield’s block, Oklahoma point guard Jordan Woodard knocked down seven of eight free throws in the final minute.

Hield knew how big his defensive play, which continued a drought by Dayton of 10:32 without a field goal, was for Oklahoma.

“That was nice huh? I know why I’m here,” Hield said with a laugh. “ . . . Hats off to me.”

From there, he tipped his hat to his teammates, who helped Oklahoma (24-10), which made just one field goal in the final 5:56, come back from down nine in the second half.

He explain how proud he was of Sooners’ coach Lon Kruger, who became the first coach in NCAA history to take four different teams to the Sweet 16 one day after becoming the first coach to win a game with five different schools.

“I’m proud of Oklahoma,” said Hield, who finished with 15 points despite missing nine shots.

Like he has in the past, Hield found a different way to help his team reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009. He had four assists, didn’t commit a turnover and yet again made the game-changing play.

“It’s not waiting on it. It’s going to happen regardless,” Woodard said. “Big-time player make big-time plays. That’s what he does. He’s a big-time player.”

Woodard scored a team-high 16 points – nine at the free-throw line – and Frank Booker scored 12 off the bench after scoring nine in the first half.

Ryan Spangler pulled down 12 rebounds for Oklahoma, which outrebounded Dayton (27-9) by 12.

“It’s big. It’s big for our program. It’s big for our fans,” Spangler said of reaching the Sweet 16. “Three years ago, coach Kruger started turning this program around. I think it’s on the rise, and it’s going to get better every year. He knows what he’s doing and he must be doing something right.”

Oklahoma, which will play No. 7 Michigan State at 9 p.m. CST on Friday in the Sweet 16, went 7-for-9 from behind the 3-point arc to start the game but then made just one basket in the final eight-and-a-half minutes of the first half – going 2-for-9 from behind the arc the rest of the game.

Dayton went back to the lead before Hield’s lay-up with 5:56 to go – a basket that came during a stretch when the Sooners missed five lay-ups in a five-minute stretch.

Banking on a validated defense, Woodard’s calm under pressure and Hield big play – maybe the biggest of the season for the Sooners, Oklahoma is headed to the Sweet 16.

“Once you get one going, you get the rest going,” Hield said. “. . . We could do it together. We stuck together as a group and kept fighting. Hats off to them.”

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