On Monday night, Buddy Hield happened.
And somehow, his game-winning 3-pointer in No. 3 Oklahoma’s 63-60 win over No. 24 Texas felt sudden and stunning.
Even though we’ve watched the same scene multiple times this season and we know Hield always comes through the fire with the family’s cat in one hand and its dog in the other -- both unharmed -- we still wonder if he’ll do it again.
Because that’s the fun part of the 2015-16 season.
And it’s common now.
Another Big Monday and the player having one of the best seasons in NCAA men's basketball history -- Hield could end the year as the first player to shoot 50 percent from the 3-point line, 50 percent from inside the arc and 90 percent from the charity stripe -- must rise in the final moments, so you flip to ESPN and wait for the mellow twentysomething from the Bahamas to amaze you.
It’s an illogical expectation. Players miss shots. Players go cold. Hield himself did. In the first half, he missed five of his six shots.
Plus, upsets don’t shake the landscape in this tumultuous season -- they’re just tremors. And every elite team has felt a few. So it wasn’t crazy to imagine a resurgent Texas team that controlled the game for more than 30 minutes to leave Norman with a win. Oklahoma had just lost to Kansas State. Maybe the Sooners had found a funk or, as Parliament warned, the funk had found them.
But Buddy Hield happened.
Hield makes us appreciate stats most never valued before his Wooden Award-worthy season. We’ve tracked how many 3-pointers he’s hit from the left wing and the right wing. We’ve monitored his efficiency in transition.
Unlike past collegiate greats, he has not polarized the masses. The raw numbers crowd and the analytics folks have held hands and announced, “Homeboy can ball!” Dudes on the playground and subscribers of KenPom both will agree on that.
Hield’s latest performance, which should prompt the Wooden Award selection committee to send the trophy to him on Tuesday, began with 3:20 to play. Hield made a 3-pointer. Then a layup. And four free throws after that.
Texas had used its lengthy and agile guards to harass Hield all night. That doesn’t last forever, though.
Isaiah Cousins dribbled to the top of the key with seconds to play and waited for Hield to separate from Kendal Yancy. Hield jabbed once and skated back behind the arc. Yancy didn’t close fast enough but even if he had, even if he’d shadowed Hield every step of that sequence, somehow that ball would have traveled to where it seems it must go when it leaves the Oklahoma senior’s hands in such moments.
But Yancy let Hield breathe, so the Longhorns gasped once the shot fell.
“My coaches gave me the ball on a couple of [isolation plays],” Hield said after the game, “and they let me go to work.”
The original thought was for this column to center on the concerns created by a messy 70 minutes of Oklahoma basketball. On Saturday, the Sooners -- who’d entered their loss at Kansas State shooting a ridiculous and historic (best in the last 25 years) 46 percent from beyond the arc -- connected on just 25 percent of their 3-pointers.
With 10 minutes to play on Monday night, the Sooners trailed Texas, a deficit created by another poor effort from the 3-point line. Lon Kruger’s team, which had shot 28 percent from the field in the first half, was just 31 percent from beyond the arc at that juncture.
So then this column figured to become a piece about Shaka Smart’s sooner-than-expected rebuilding effort in Austin and his candidacy for Big 12 coach of the year.
But these storylines were premature. Every storyline is premature when Hield is involved.
Yes, Sooners fans should ask how their team will respond when there’s another drought. It’s not just Oklahoma’s ability to hit 3-pointers that changed the trajectory of the season. The Sooners’ reliance on deep shots (39 percent of their offense came from 3s entering Saturday’s loss) played a role in everything that happened against Kansas State and their early troubles against Texas.
If they go cold again, what’s next?
Then, those ideas and possibilities all evaporated into the rumble of the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Oklahoma, on Monday night. That frenzy. That vibe. That noise.
That scene. Oklahoma in trouble. The game on the line in the final seconds. So much suspense until Buddy Hield happened.
He’s the only thing that feels certain in 2015-16.