OKLAHOMA CITY – VCU coach Will Wade had every right to be proud of his team’s performance. Fighting back from a 13-point halftime deficit in what was essentially a road game, the Rams showed the kind of heart you’re supposed to show in March.
But the Rams didn’t have Buddy Hield. Good teams can deliver, but great players can just be too much to handle. Hield was, especially in the second half of Oklahoma’s 85-81 victory against the Rams on Sunday evening at Chesapeake Arena in the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament.
“Unbelievable performance by Hield there down the stretch. Every time they needed a big basket, he answered the bell,” Wade said. “He's just a phenomenal player. Best player I've seen in college basketball.”
Hield didn’t score until 9:28 was left in the first half, and he only had seven points at halftime. He finished with 36 points and basically put the Sooners on his back by scoring 26 of the team’s 31 points to guarantee OU will play at least one more weekend.
The first five minutes of the second half were not Hield, dominated by junior guard Jordan Woodard. Hield’s run started innocently enough with a driving layup to give OU a 56-48 lead, followed by a three-pointer to stretch the lead back to double figures.
The next time Hield would score would be to wipe out an 11-0 run by the Rams to give OU the lead again at 61-59.
“He is a really good player,” VCU guard Doug Brooks said. “I was trying to talk to him and get into his head. It didn’t work.”
VCU, who trailed 44-31 at halftime, took a 65-63 lead when Hield answered once again with a long distance bomb with 7:57 left in the second half.
He was just getting warmed up.
Another three by Hield gave the Sooners the lead again at 69-67 with 6:37 left. A layup followed that, and OU eventually worked the margin back to 75-67 with 4:51 remaining.
The Rams weren’t done and neither was Hield.
Now 77-74, and it was Hield again on a jump shot. At this point every time Hield caught the ball, there was a palpable buzz in the crowd of what would happen next.
What happened next was another three, giving Hield six three-pointers in the game.
“I mean, he has the ultimate green light,” VCU’s Melvin Johnson said. “So I mean, it's just hard to guard a player that makes shots consistently. I mean, it's easier said than done, but you've just got to arrive on the catch and hope he misses at times.
“Obviously he's logging a lot of hours in the gym because he shoots shots sometimes when he's not even looking at the basket. As soon as he touches it, he lets it go. So I mean, it's all in his confidence and I guess his work ethic.”
Hield would score points No. 28 and No. 29 on separate trips to the free throw line to make sure the Sooners weren’t the latest victim of an upset in the NCAA tournament.
His final numbers? Hield shot 11 of 20 from the floor, 6 of 14 on 3-point attempts and 8 of 10 from the free throw line.
In a season of unforgettable performances, he left one last mark in his final collegiate game in the state of Oklahoma.
“At the end of the game he said, ‘I’m the number one player in the country, big time players make big time plays.’ That’s what he told me,” Brooks said. “It was funny, we were out there competing.”