Oklahoma senior guard Buddy Hield and Iowa State senior forward Georges Niang, two of America’s best players, were on display in the final quarterfinal of the Big 12 tournament Thursday night. And both lived up to the praise that’s been heaped upon them this season, with Hield scoring an efficient 39 points and Niang countering with 31 after dealing with first-half foul trouble.
But in the end Oklahoma was able to do enough to hang on for the 79-76 win, doing so despite an off night from beyond the arc.
The Sooners shot just 4-for-21 from three on the night, and for a team so reliant on the three that would normally spell doom. In each of Oklahoma’s last four losses they shot no better than 35.7 percent from three (at Texas), so what would shooting below 20 percent against a team with the offensive weapons that Iowa State lead to? Not a loss, thanks to the masterful performance produced by Hield.
Hield, who shot 2-for-6 from three, made 12 of his 15 two-point attempts and shot 9-for-9 from the foul line. Matt Thomas, Iowa State’s best perimeter defender, did his best to keep up with the national Player of the Year candidate and force him to make tough shots. But that’s a task easier said than done, and Hield still managed to make the offensive plays the Sooners needed him to make. Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler scored ten points apiece, and at a combined 7-for-19 from the field (Jordan Woodard scored four points on 1-for-8 shooting) they weren’t all that efficient against the Cyclones.
Subpar nights like those put more pressure on Hield to score, but as he has on many occasions this season the senior guard rose to the challenge. This isn’t a formula Oklahoma will look to rely upon as the games get even bigger, as players such as Cousins, Spangler and Woodard are better than they showed Thursday night. But in Hield they have a talent that few teams can match, and even fewer can manage to slow down.
Iowa State made its charge in the second half, but the combination of Hield and a high turnover count proved to be too much to overcome. Iowa State committed 18 turnovers, with the Sooners converting those into 17 points on the night. They won’t run into many players the caliber of Hield in the NCAA tournament, and one would think that the Cyclones won’t turn the ball over as often either. But if there’s a concern for Steve Prohm it’s the health of his point guard, as Monté Morris looked nothing like himself as he played with a right shoulder injury.
Morris had just one of those 18 turnovers, but he scored five points on 1-for-9 shooting. Iowa State needs Morris to be at his best, or close to it, if they’re to beat the nation’s best teams and wasn’t Thursday night. Losing in the quarterfinals is a disappointing result, but it gets Morris some additional rest ahead of the NCAA tournament. Niang nearly pushed Iowa State to the win, but some issues on their end and the presence of Hield resulted in the Cyclones coming up short.