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After a slow start, Buddy Hield came alive, caught fire in the second half and carried No. 2 Oklahoma past No. 10 VCU, 85–81. Hield scored 29 of his game-high 36 points after halftime, including a 12-minute stretch in which he scored 24 of the Sooners’ 28 points.
VCU played valiantly, scoring 50 points in the second half and twice cutting its deficit to three points in the final two minutes of the game. The Rams had opportunities to tie the game or cut into Oklahoma’s single-digit lead, but their upset bid never materialized.
JeQuan Lewis was the primary playmaker for the Rams, scoring 22 points and nine assists, but he committed turnovers on back-to-back possessions in the final minutes with VCU trailing by five. Jordan Burgess missed a pair of free throws with VCU trailing by four with 27 seconds left.
Oklahoma took a 44–31 lead into halftime despite 3-of-14 shooting from behind the arc in the first half and just seven points from Hield, who had to go to the bench with two fouls. But when his teammates went cold in the second half, Hield ignited Oklahoma offensively and led the Sooners to the Sweet 16.
Why it matters
Buddy Hield showed why he’s a national player of the year candidate, if not the favorite to win the award. He played one of his best halves of the season when his team needed him the most on the biggest stage in the sport. He scored his 36 points on 9-for-18 shooting and now leads the Sooners into the second weekend with an eye on cutting down the nets in Houston.
Hield is also arguably the best individual player and the biggest name still alive in the tournament. Denzel Valentine’s Michigan State team was upset in the first round, Providence and its star point guard Kris Dunn were eliminated in the second round and LSU wasn’t good enough to qualify for the NCAA tournament in Ben Simmons’s only season of college.
Hield has had a phenomenal season, but an extended run in the tournament fueled by dominant performances can only add to the legacy of Oklahoma’s Bahamas-born shooting guard.
Oklahoma advances to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row and will play the winner of Texas A&M-Northern Iowa. The Sooners are the third team from the Big 12 to advance to the second weekend and Texas A&M could become the fourth on Sunday night.
Despite the loss, VCU had a very productive season under new head coach Will Wade. The Rams won a share of the A-10 regular-season title and won a game in the NCAA tournament, something former coach Shaka Smart hasn’t done since 2013. The team’s leading scorers, Korey Billbury and Melvin Johnson, will graduate this spring, but the Rams still have the talent in place to succeed under Wade going forward.
But there isn’t another year of college basketball for Hield and fellow seniors Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins, as they look to navigate through the West region and end their careers as national champions.