- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There might not have been much pretty about it, but the Oklahoma Sooners didn't have any reason to complain about their weekend in Ohio.
Based on the wild celebration in the locker room, they clearly weren't worried about the details anyway after coming back and then fighting off a challenge from the Dayton Flyers.
And with the top-two seeds in the East Region having already bowed out of the NCAA tournament, any win would do on Sunday night at Nationwide Arena. A 72-66 final score certainly did the trick as an encore to a 69-60 decision over the Albany Great Danes.
Next stop for the Sooners: The Sweet 16 in Syracuse, New York.
Star of the first weekend: There was no mystery entering the postseason who would lead the Sooners if there was going to be a deep run, and Buddy Hield proved more than capable of the task with a pair of productive outings. The star guard and Big 12 Player of the Year might not have provided some of the explosive offense he's known for, but with 15 points apiece in the victories, Hield kept the wheels moving against a pair of stingy defenses. Dayton, in particular, gave Hield little room to work with offensively and it took him 13 shots to account for that scoring. But he supplemented that with five assists, three rebounds and a rare, crucial block to help extend Oklahoma's season. With Villanova and Virginia both gone from the Oklahoma bracket and the conference struggling, Hield will be carrying the torch as one of the most exciting players in the country into the second weekend.
The big moment in Columbus: Hield clinched the third-round win at the rim -- once on defense and once on offense during a pivotal stretch in the second half. Stretched to the limit and trailing late in the game, Jordan Woodard nabbed an errant Dayton pass and fired the basketball ahead to Hield, with the Oklahoma guard laying it in to reclaim a lead it wouldn't relinquish. The pesky Flyers threatened to tighten up the game a couple minutes later, though, with a steal and transition of their own. But on the other end of the floor, Hield jumped up to swat away a layup that took the air out of the pro-Dayton crowd at Nationwide Arena and helped the Sooners survive another competitive matchup. “That was nice, huh?” Hield joked in the locker room. “I had to get back and had to make a play on the ball. ... It worked out -- good play for us, bad play for them.”
What's next: The Sooners are suddenly the top seed left in the wide-open East Region, but the road isn't exactly clear ahead of them quite yet. The No. 7 Michigan State Spartans are once again rolling in March, and they will be standing in Oklahoma's way when the tournament resumes on Friday in Syracuse. The physical, stingy defense Tom Izzo has his team playing will make life difficult for anybody, and the Sooners will need Hield to keep his solid offensive run going if they're going to maintain their position as the lead dog in the East.
here might not have been much pretty about it, but the Oklahoma Sooners didn't have any reason to complain about their weekend in Ohio.