NORMAN – The fingers on Buddy Hield's left hand began to make indents on the side of his face as he starred off into space Saturday afternoon at the Oklahoma post-game press conference. Seconds turned into minutes after he was asked about his missed free throw with 25 seconds to go, and his vacant, despondent expression never left.
It looked like he was replaying it over in his mind, wondering how the shot that he thought was going in somehow clanged twice off the rim before kicking out. It would have tied the game. A Kansas player joked after the game that it could have sent the two teams to another triple-overtime thriller.
Hield went quickly back to the Sooners’ locker room, still just a few minutes removed from the 76-72 loss to the No. 6 Kansas Jayhawks inside Lloyd Noble Center, where Oklahoma had won 19-straight games before Saturday. Hield’s usual 30-minute, post-game autograph session turned into just one signed ball before he ducked back away from the spotlight.
This loss clearly hurt more than most.
“I was surprised. I thought I had it,” Hield said of the missed free throw. “It was one of those things where it just rimmed out.”
No. 3 Oklahoma had won two of the last three games against the Jayhawks at home but had beaten Kansas just twice in the previous 16 games before Saturday. Another slow start, including a first half without a field goal for Hield, put the Sooners (20-4, 8-4) fighting an uphill battle from the start.
The Sooners trudged back in the second half after matching their largest deficit of the season and took the lead with just less than 12 minutes remaining on back-to-back 3-pointers by Hield. It again looked as if a first half of bad shooting and bad decisions was going to be erased by an almost miraculous surge by Hield.
“We have to step up and make shots,” Hield said. “We’re not making shots early. We’re used to making shots and making those early runs on teams. We haven’t done that and we need to do a better job. . . . We have to start making shots.”
The lead changed hands a total of 12 times in the final 12 minutes before Devonte' Graham, who defended Hield for much of the game and still scored a game-high 27 points, knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner to give Kansas (21-4, 9-3) the lead for good.
Hield, who started the game 0-for-3 from behind the 3-point arc, finished with a team-high 24 points. Isaiah Cousins added 21 points and five assists, and Jordan Woodard scored 10 points and pulled down six rebounds, including two on the offensive end late in the game that gave the Sooners a chance.
“We've got to figure out some other ways to score and we're not a club that throws it inside a lot so I don't know what exactly that means at this point, but we've got to keep moving and creating better looks for each other,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said.
After Hield missed the game-tying free throw, the Sooners still had a chance, but a rushed 3-pointer by Cousins put the Jayhawks on the free-throw line with a chance to ice the game.
In previous games, Hield had morphed into the Sooners’ savior, bouncing back and rallying Oklahoma to surprising wins against Texas and LSU. He had magic in Phog Allen Fieldhouse earlier this season and a game-winning put-back in the final seconds at home in the regular season finale last year.
That change never came Saturday, and he was clearly left looking for it after the game.
“We just need to use this as a learning experience,” Hield said. “We've got to find a way to get them back, probably in the Big 12 Tournament.”