Buddy Hield bit the neck of his jersey and held his head low as he jogged up the tunnel at Lloyd Noble Center while junior forward Amath M'Baye wrapped a hand around Hield’s waist and tried to console him on the way to the locker room. But the freshmen guard was inconsolable.
He was frustrated with himself, frustrated with losing. M’Baye knew how his teammate hurt and tried to lift him up after Oklahoma’s 56-55 loss to Stephen F. Austin.
“He said to keep my head up,” Hield said. “Don’t worry if anybody said anything and not to get down on myself, that I’m a good basketball player. It’s everybody’s fault, not my fault.”
SCOOPHD: SOONERS FALL TO LUMBERJACKS 56-55
Any other night, Hield would hit the free-throw to give Oklahoma an opportunity to win. He’d prepared for that opportunity, yearned for it.
Just moments prior, he’d done a masterful job of getting to the rim on a play Oklahoma men's basketball coach Lon Kruger drew up with 8.5 seconds left to play and down a point to Stephen F. Austin.
Freshmen guard Je'lon Hornbeak inbounded the ball to Hield, and Hield attacked the basket and drew the foul but missed the bucket. He stepped to the line for the biggest foul shots of his collegiate career.
Hield hit the first, missed the second.
“Being in the gym shooting free-throws, all day and shooting jump shots, you expect a player like me to hit those free-throws,” Hield said.
Still, Hield put the Sooners in a position to win by scoring nine points on 3-of-11 shooting and notching a career-high 11 rebounds against the ‘Jacks.
He’s often one of the last players to leave the men’s basketball gym after two hours of practice. If Kruger gave him a key to the gym, Hield might never leave. He’ll likely spend more time in the gym after OU’s disappointing shooting display.
Offense didn’t come easy for either team as Oklahoma and SFA held each other to sub-40 percent shooting. SFA coach Danny Kaspar expected a tight ugly game, and that’s exactly what he and Lumberjacks got.
“They played great D,” Kaspar said. “We played great D, and I know maybe it was an ugly game. I don’t know.”
Ugly game? That’s the kind of game the Sooners are used to winning this year; one where they didn’t shoot well but managed to scrap for a win in the waning minutes. But you can only live on the edge for so long before falling off the cliff, especially against a team like SFA.
The mid-major program was jump-started with a win against Blake Griffin’s Sooners in 2007 and have won three of the last four regular season Southland conference crowns since. Perhaps it’s poignant OU mounted a five-year, 36-game non-conference home win-streak since the Sooners last played the ‘Jacks.
Perhaps its poignant that the ‘Jacks ended that streak.
“We’ve beaten some other teams that are considered big-time, and I don’t think Coach (Lon) Kruger took us for granted this year,” Kaspar said.
SFA could be headed for yet another Southland title and could make some noise in the NCAA tournament come March. The ‘Jacks know what a signature win against a power conference team could mean for their program, as does senior forward Romero Osby.
Osby couldn’t shake the fact SFA left with a win against he and the Sooners in their house. He was frustrated with himself and couldn’t help feeling he’d let his teammates down when he picked up his third foul in the first minute of the second half, limiting him to just eight points in 18 minutes.
“I just don’t think we played well as a team defensively like we wanted to,” Osby said. “Can’t blame anybody but ourselves.”
The Sooners have lost more non-conference games this season than last season and are still looking for an offensive identity. They need to figure out what that identity is and quickly.
“We’ve got to keep working on that,” Kruger said. “We have to find something that is going to give us a little bit more activity -- more attack.”
Hield diagnosed the Sooners’ problems in a much more direct fashion.
“We need to improve as a basketball team and don’t take any team for granted,” he said.