Buddy Hield accepted the Big 12 men’s basketball player of the year trophy from Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby before Oklahoma played Iowa State. As he made his way from the bench to midcourt at the Sprint Center, Hield called for his teammates to join him, and there the Sooners stood with their teammate on the Big 12 logo.
Once the game began, the Sooners once again followed their leader.
Hield scored 39 points, many artfully, and carried Oklahoma to a 79-76 victory in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals Thursday.
The sixth-ranked Sooners, 25-6, will meet No. 9 West Virginia in Friday’s semifinal around 8:30 p.m.
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Hield delivered the second-highest scoring game in the two-decade history of the tournament. Only Texas Tech’s Mike Singletary, who put up 43 points in 2009, scored more.
“I was just taking what the defense was giving me,” Hield said. “It was fun out there.”
Oklahoma needed the production. Iowa State, which trailed by double digits for a long stretch in the second half, battled back behind its star, Georges Niang, who scored 25 of his 31 points in the second half before fouling out with 31 seconds remaining.
Niang’s total matched a season high. He rolled in the second half mostly by going strong to the basket.
“I wanted to try to pierce through the defense and start finding shooters and making plays,” Niang said. “They gave me the lane, so I was able to finish.”
It marked one of the top individual offensive battles in league history. Hield and Niang, seniors who have topped 2,000 points in their careers, tried to one-up each other throughout the second half.
When it was over, ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe interviewed both players on the floor, side by side.
“They represent the game and their universities the right way,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said. “They’re about the right things.”
Both players were remarkably efficient. Hield made 14 of 21 from the floor, Niang was 13 of 18.
Hield missed everything on a three-point attempt late in the game. When asked about it, he said he got hit on the elbow as he released the shot.
When a player was as hot as Hield, there had to be a good reason for a miss.
“From a competitor’s standpoint I’d wish he’d have missed a couple more shots,” Niang said.
Niang scored seven straight points, pulling Iowa State to 67-61 with four minutes remaining. Oklahoma answered with a three-point play by Ryan Spangler.
Hield’s scoring flurry earlier in the half was more impressive. He knocked down a pair of free throws, completed a three-point play on lob slam and scored on a short jumper — left-handed.
The Sooners had opened a 59-44 lead before the No. 22 Cyclones, 21-11, battled back.
Abdel Nader’s three-pointer cut Iowa State’s deficit to 73-69 as missed free throws and turnovers by Oklahoma kept the door open for the Cyclones.
Nader missed from the same place, the ball rattling around the rim, with 38 seconds remaining that would have cut the deficit to one.
Iowa State, the two-time defending Big 12 Tournament champion, will await its NCAA Tournament destination announced on Selection Sunday.
Oklahoma and Iowa State entered the game as two of the three Big 12 teams averaging more than 80 points per game. The Cyclones were the top field-goal shooting team at 50.3 percent while the Sooners were best at three-pointers, 43.0.
But it took a half for the teams to warm up.
Neither side could open a margin until the final three minutes of the first half. A Hield heat-check three from the right wing broke a 24-24 deadlock and started an 11-5 run that ended a low-scoring half.
Hield finished with 18 points before the break but no other Sooners player had more than five.
Niang started well for the Cyclones with three baskets in the first seven minutes. But he sat the final six minutes after collecting his second foul.
Matt Thomas hit his second three of the half, closing the margin to 32-29, but the Sooners responded with Isaiah Cousin’s drive and kick to Jordan Woodard for a corner three, and the half ended with Khadeem Lattin blocking two shots.
But Hield showed why he is among the leading candidates for national player of the year. He topped his Thursday point total only once this season — when he scored 46 points in a triple-overtime loss at Kansas and left the floor with his trademark smile.
Niang jogged away from the postgame interview and said he needed time to get over the loss.
“I’m really upset,” Niang said. “This one hurts.”