KANSAS CITY – The celebration was on as Buddy Hield raced toward press row, put one foot on the table and jumped into the stands. His teammates rushed off the bench and crashed around him.
All night Hield couldn’t get off an open shot, and even after taking the inbounds pass with 1.8 seconds to go and the Sooners down by one, Hield had to double pump to get off his half-court buzzer beater.
The desperation heave fell, sending Oklahoma on to the Big 12 Championship title game against Kansas. There was no doubt it was in. Christian James, who missed a lay-in on the previous possession that would have given the Sooners the lead, thought Hield hit the shot – even saying that Hield came to his rescue in the locker room after the game.
Hield celebrated like the shot counted.
Only it didn’t.
Hield’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer beat no buzzer, and a euphoric state was replaced by heartbreak as West Virginia raced onto the court after the referees overturned the call. By the tip of Hield’s right index finger, West Virginia advance to the championship game Saturday with a 69-67 victory.
“I just had to make an adjustment on my shot and get it off as quickly as possible,” Hield said. “But I didn’t. Time wasn’t on my side I guess.”
The game was decided by fractions of a second and millimeters on Hield’s fingers as the buzzer sounded, but it was more about what Oklahoma didn’t do through the first 30 minutes of the game. Hield took just eight shots and was held to six points – his first single-digit scoring output of the season and his fewest points Nov. 27, 2014.
Oklahoma (25-7) couldn’t handle the West Virginia pressure, leaving point guard Isaiah Cousins by himself and his teammates failing to move for open passes. The Sooners swept the season series by beating the pressure and scored their biggest road win of the season against the Mountaineers – shredding the full-court defense.
But on Friday night, the Sooners were lost.
“We didn’t handle it well at all,” Kruger said. “Our receivers weren’t eager to be available. Our ball-handlers were frantic. West Virginia dictated that aspect of the game for sure.”
Yet, the Sooners were in position to beat West Virginia (26-7) in the final minutes. Rallying from down 12 with seven minutes to play, Oklahoma found a spark from one of the more unlikely sources.
Jordan Woodard on the bench for the final 12 minutes, Hield unable to get lose from a West Virginia man-to-man, Cousins befuddled and rattled by the Mountaineers’ trap: Sooners’ freshman James, whose previous game-high was 12 points, rose to the occasion.
He hit a 3-pointer from the wing before five straight points by Cousins. James’ put-back pulled the Sooners within four points and two free throws narrow the margin to two. James hit a 3-pointer from the corner to Oklahoma the lead with 2:55 to play, its first lead since the first half. James hit two more free throws to extend the lead to three points with less than 90 seconds to play.
“Seniors got me through it, because I had never been there on that big of a stage,” Jams said. “Just giving me confidence to know they believe in me and my coach believes in me. So, I tried to go out there and make plays.”
After West Virginia guard Jaysean Paige hit a pull-up jumper to give the Mountaineers a one-point lead with 11 seconds to go, James almost made the biggest of plays.
Cousins was looking for Hield for the game-winner, but the lane opened up for James, who took the pass and attacked the basket. He thought the contact under the rim would draw a foul, but instead, his lay-up fell short. He wiped his eyes and pinched his nose. James bent over at the waist as West Virginia went to the free-throw line.
“It hurt,” James said. “I thought it was over, but here comes Buddy. He hit a big shot.”
Hield did hit a big shot. It just wasn’t in time.
“Just a split second short,” James said.