OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Cal State Bakersfield’s plan to slow Buddy Hield worked for a while.
Then, he got loose and did his usual damage. Oklahoma’s senior star exploded for 16 of his 27 points in the final 13:23 to help the second-seeded Sooners knock off the 15th-seeded Roadrunners 82-68 on Friday.
Hield made 8 of 14 shots in the game, including 3 of 6 3-pointers. It was enough for Bakersfield coach Rod Barnes to declare Hield the best player in the nation.
”He’s my Player of the Year because I think he’s been the most consistent player in the country this year,” Barnes said.
Hield entered the game as the nation’s No. 2 scorer with 25 points per game. Barnes said the Roadrunners watched how West Virginia slowed Hield by denying him the ball in the Big 12 Tournament and held him to a season-low six points, and he said the Roadrunners would follow that blueprint against him.
They couldn’t quite pull it off.
”He’s a great player, and I feel like he just made his mind up more than he did early on because he saw his team needed that,” Bakersfield forward Matt Smith said. ”That’s what great players do.”
On a day in which No. 2 seed Michigan State was eliminated by Middle Tennessee State, just advancing was the focus for Oklahoma. The Sooners got away with making just 15 of 25 free throws and getting outrebounded 35-31.
”It’s a good first-round win,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. ”I told our guys afterwards, I said, `Hey, they caused us to play less than what we’d like to.’ But Bakersfield did that. Appreciate winning. Appreciate winning and playing again, because it’s not easy to do that, and proud of the guys for doing that.”
Isaiah Cousins scored 16 points and Jordan Woodard added 15 for the Sooners (26-7), who made 11 of 20 3-pointers and shot 50 percent overall.
Oklahoma enjoyed a homecourt advantage at Chesapeake Energy Arena, just a half hour’s drive north of their Norman campus. The Sooners advanced to play No. 10 seed Virginia Commonwealth, which defeated Oregon State 75-67 earlier in the day.
Aly Ahmed had 16 points and eight rebounds, Kevin Mays had 14 points and eight rebounds and Dedrick Basile added 13 points for Bakersfield (24-9), the Western Athletic Conference Tournament champions.
Oklahoma led for most of the second half, but Bakersfield cut Oklahoma’s lead to four with just over four minutes to play. Woodard drained a 3-pointer about a minute later and Hield followed with a stepback three to push the Sooners’ lead to 10.
”I thought Bakersfield, for 35 minutes, if they didn’t outplay us, they certainly played even,” Kruger said.
Bakersfield ran out to an 8-0 lead and held Oklahoma scoreless for the first 2 1/2 minutes. The Sooners rallied, and within four minutes, they had a 12-10 lead and Bakersfield had called a timeout.
Woodard’s 3-pointer pushed Oklahoma’s edge to 33-27 and got the crowd into the game. Bakersfield coach Rod Barnes was called for a technical with 3:56 left in the first half, demonstrating the team’s frustration with playing so hard, yet barely hanging on. Hield made one of two free throws, and Dante Buford made one of two to push Oklahoma’s lead to eight.
Ahmed made a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the first half to trim Oklahoma’s lead to 41-34. Bakersfield led briefly in the second half before Hield got it going.
Ahmed wasn’t sold on the Sooners after the game.
”We got into a rhythm,” he said. ”We kept the game tight as much as possible. For a second, they had to like, `Hey, let’s wake up!’ And that was the point. They are good, but they’re not great. If they’re great, they would beat us by 20 or 30.”
Oklahoma outscored Bakersfield 41-34 in both halves.
Oklahoma led by 69-65 when Ahmed missed a 3-pointer for Bakersfield, and Woodard made a three on the other end for the Sooners.
Mays: ”We’re just a team that’s never going to go away, and I feel like the guys on our team just wouldn’t give up and we wouldn’t roll over. I felt like we really believed that we would win that game.”
Cal State Bakersfield: Barnes was an assistant at Oklahoma during the 2006-07 season. … Barnes was an assistant for Ole Miss during the 1998 NCAA Tournament, when Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew hit the game-winning 3-pointer across the street at what then was known as The Myriad. … Ahmed grew up in Egypt and lived there until he was 18. He said he watched March Madness there as a child and dreamed of playing in the tournament.
Oklahoma: The Sooners have reached the tournament four straight years. … This is the fifth program Kruger has led to the NCAA Tournament. … The Sooners shot 51.6 percent in the first half and committed just four turnovers. Bakersfield shot 50 percent in the first half, but committed 10 turnovers.
Cal State Bakersfield’s season is over.
Oklahoma plays Virginia Commonwealth on Sunday.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.