OKLAHOMA CITY – ‘Buddy, Buddy, Buddy’ – wherever the chant started from, it was clear who the capacity crowd at the Chesapeake Arena was looking for just a few seconds after Oklahoma’s 85-81 victory against VCU that sent the Sooners into the Sweet 16.
Buddy Hield waved his arms emphatically as he ran to the open side of the court after the Rams' final shot missed. He jumped on the Sooners bench and pointed into the crowd at his mom and two brothers, reminding them that he foretold them of this moment.
He then ducked away into the handshake line before retreating into a crowd near the baseline. Until the arena beckoned him out for an encore. The Oklahoma Sooners fan base that fell in love with the high-scoring Bahamian and watched him through some of college basketball’s greatest moments this season wanted to thank him once more.
Stepping away from the crowd, Hield waved his arms again and placed his right hand by his ear. He might not get a chance to hear a crowd cheer like this again.
He had his triple-overtime show against Kansas when he tied the record for points by an opponent in Phog-Allen Fieldhouse and the game-winning tip-in at home to upset the Jayhawks a year earlier. Hield had the game-winner against Texas and out-dueled former Player of the Year foe Ben Simmons at a hostile site.
Then, he had 39 points in the first round of the Big 12 Championship, setting a new high for a senior.
But Sunday night stood out to him: The crowd begging him for an encore, his family in the crowd and playing for them and his childhood hardship, reaching the Sweet 16 for the second-straight year with a group of teammates who he had started more than 100-straight games alongside,maybe a stamp on the National Player of the Year award.
It was a special moment, and it was Hield’s last collegiate performance in Oklahoma.
“This is the best one because it means a lot,” Hield said, “because it’s the NCAA Tournament, big stage, win or go home. And you don’t get these moments back every time. Everybody’s watching, so just relishing these type of moments is special.”
Only five other players have scored at least 29 points in an NCAA Tournament game this season. Hield had 29 in the second half to give him 36 for the game. Hield scored 26 of Oklahoma’s final 31 points, besting a VCU team that wouldn’t go away until the final buzzer.
Second-seeded Oklahoma (27-7) set triple picks to try and free Hield up on the offensive end. After just seven points in the first half and not scoring a basket until 9:28 remained before halftime, Hield hit a 3-pointer from the wing with just under eight minutes to play to give the Sooners back the lead.
It was Hield the rest of the way.
He took the shot on 11 of Oklahoma’s final 14 possessions – scoring 18 points and going to the free-throw line with a chance to win it in the final seconds.
VCU (25-11) knew the ball was going to Hield, but there was nothing the Rams could do to stop him. With Oklahoma ahead by just three points after the Rams knocked down a big 3-pointer, Hield took the ball on the right wing.
He drove to his left and spun back away from the basket, sending his man, Jordan Burgess stumbling into open court. He pulled up and knocked down a 17-footer, Hield’s favorite shot of the spree.
“That’s all confidence and something I work on all the time,” said Hield, who moved into third all-time in program history and posted the third-most points by a Big 12 player in NCAA Tournament history. “. . . When I made that, I knew coach was going to run everything through me.”
Hield finished 11-for-20 and 6-for-14 from behind the 3-point arc. After missing six shots in the first half, Hield missed just three in the second, despite four more attempts in the final 20 minutes.
“He’s got really great focus at that moment when the shot needed to be made or a play needed to be made,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “He’s done it so many times for us throughout his career and especially this year and again (Sunday).
“It seemed like every shot that he had that we needed, he stepped up and made it. It’s not easy to do. . . . Buddy has been terrific with that at that moment, those moments, all year long.”
Hield walked off a court inside the borders of Oklahoma for the final time as a collegian.
He waved his arms and threw a towel into the stands. These fans will never see him play again in his non-island home. But if Hield has his way, they will cheer his name at least once more.
“They’re still coming to Houston to cheer for me,” he said.null