CLIFF BRUNT, AP Sports Writer
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Buddy Hield’s game-changing play against Dayton offered a snapshot of what he has become in clutch situations.
With Oklahoma up by four points and just over a minute remaining against the Flyers in the round of 32, Hield missed a handoff from point guard Jordan Woodard, leading to a Dayton fast break. Hield got back and stuffed Darrell Davis’ layup attempt with 1:02 remaining. Oklahoma held on and advanced to the East Regional semifinals Friday against Michigan State.
Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger has come to expect such plays from the Big 12 Player of the Year.
“Buddy is very athletic,” Kruger said. “He and Jordan were unhappy with the play at midcourt, so I thought Buddy’s response — he’s not going to give up on it. He made it with effort and did it without fouling, and obviously, a key play in the game.”
It wasn’t the first time Hield bounced back in a major way during a game to help the Sooners win. With Oklahoma up three in the regular-season finale against Kansas, the 6-foot-4 guard lost the ball, and Kansas eventually made three free throws to tie the score. Hield followed Woodard’s missed layup with an acrobatic tip-in with 0.2 seconds left to give Oklahoma a 75-73 win.
At Texas Tech, he was 1 for 10 from the field in regulation, but drained two 3-pointers in overtime to fuel a 79-75 victory. In the Big 12 Tournament, he scored six points in the first half against Oklahoma State, but had 16 in the second half of a 64-49 win.
It’s the kind of resilience which has helped Hield morph from a high-scoring perimeter shooter as a sophomore to a do-it-all, two-way player who embraces defense as a junior. He’s been that way since he battled his way through rough surroundings in The Bahamas.
“You know what drives him?” Hield’s mother, Jackie Swann asks. “When you tell him he can’t. That’s what pushes him. When he looks back at where he came from and how he grew up, situations in life makes you or breaks you. It didn’t break him.”
Hield left the Bahamas and played at Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Kansas, before heading to Oklahoma. Swann wasn’t sure it was going to work out at first, but Hield surprised her.
“The boy became a man overnight,” Swann said. “Very responsible. He speaks like he’s been here before. If you talk to Buddy and the Buddy you knew then — this boy’s just clowning. No one took him seriously. Now, you look at him, and it’s like ‘What happened?’ Maturity. Wisdom set in.”
Now, Hield is on Michigan State coach Tom Izzo’s radar.
“To be honest with you, I think he’s a hell of a player,” Izzo said. “He’s got size, ability to put it on the floor, he can pull up and shoot on a dime.”
In the preseason, Hield said he wanted to be a better defensive player, and he felt his effort on that end would play a key role in the team’s success. He finished the season ranked sixth in Big 12 play with 1.5 steals per game.
As a freshman, Hield averaged 7.8 points and won the team’s Most Inspirational Award. He was a second-team All-Big 12 player last season after averaging 16.5 points and 4.4 rebounds. This season, those numbers are up to 17.3 points and 5.3 rebounds.
“I keep trying to mix them all together — the driving and the transition buckets and stuff like that,” Hield said. “I have a quicker, faster pace in my game, just scoring quickly and getting into the open court and doing what I do best.”
Hield’s confidence never wavers.
“I’m going to shoot the ball, no matter if I make or miss,” he said. “If I miss it, too bad. If I make it, it’s all good for everybody. It doesn’t matter if I make or miss.”
Though he still occasionally runs into issues with poor shot selection, Kruger doesn’t worry about it too much.
“We want him shooting the ball,” Kruger said. “We want him being aggressive. He’s done a good job for us all year long. Of course, defenses are gearing to stop him more and more, and it makes it more difficult to get separation and get open looks. But he’s aware of that, and he’s worked hard to improve on that.”
Izzo joked that he’d rather not have Hield shoot at all.
“The coaches that I’ve talked to around that have gone against them — he does take some tough shots, but he makes some tough shots, too,” he said.
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