The Player of the Year race got even better, and more compelling, on Thursday night.
Buddy Hield put up 39 points and helped No. 6 Oklahoma to a 79-76 win against 19th-ranked Iowa State in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament.
It was the final college meeting (in all likelihood) between Hield and his good friend and rival, Georges Niang. Who, by the way, went for 31, tying a career high. Yes, these two all-time Big 12 players combined for 70 points and wrote another great chapter in the budding OU-ISU rivalry. On the court afterward, both were interviewed for TV at the same time. The respect each has for the over came through. It was a great moment, the best of sports.
“He’s a tough matchup,” Hield said of guarding Niang. “I love him to death. I love him as a brother. I hope I see him in the NCAA tournament.”
That would be an amazing thing to see, but in order for that to happen, odds are both would need to be in the Final Four. Hield’s 39, by the way, is four short of the Big 12 tournament record. Mike Singeltary of Texas Tech holds the mark.
The two hugged after the interview. It’s been a pleasure getting to watch these guys for four years, and hopefully we get them for another few weeks. Niang’s night put him No. 2 on the all-time list in Big 12 tournament scoring. Hield now sits at 2,159 career points; he’s within 136 of the league record.
OU won despite shooting terribly from 3 (4 for 21). That’s a good sign. ISU was harangued by foul trouble and 18 turnovers.
Niang went on a run where he scored 14 straight for ISU. He had 25 in the second half. Niang and Hield were a combined 27-for-39 from the field. Niang had seven rebounds and five assists. Hield had nine boards. This is why we wait to name national player of the year. I laid out all the stats for Buddy and Denzel Valentine on Wednesday. I wrote then that I’d take Valentine.
Now, in the moment, I lean Hield. But let’s see what both of these guys do on Friday. It’s a major storyline of championship week. How can you not love it? This game marked his 10th of at least 30 points, making him the third player in league history with at least that many in one season, joining Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley.
Iowa State should probably land on the 5 line because of this loss. The Cyclones are 21-11 but have really good wins. They’ll be a threat to reach the second weekend no matter where they end up. That starting five is very good, and you get the sense this team won’t go one-and-out the way it did vs. UAB last year.
Oklahoma is still playing its way to a No. 1 seed. It will almost certainly need to win the Big 12 tournament to achieve that. The 25-6 Sooners will play West Virginia on Friday. OU swept the season series, winning the two games by an average of eight points.
Curious how Hield did in those games? An average of 23 points and four rebounds. So merely okay. Friday’s gonna be a really good, consequential day across college basketball for high seeds and bubble games alike. Let’s see what Hield does for an encore and what Valentine can do against Ohio State in the Big Ten quarters.