Okay, this is an LSU blog obviously, but can we just take a sec and clap for Buddy Hield? I mean, what a special player and remarkable performance by the senior guard as the Sooners held on against a game LSU bunch. And really, his second-half brilliance is inextricable from this Oklahoma win. LSU was better just about everywhere else, some sloppy second-half passing excluded, and it didn't matter in the most electric PMAC atmosphere in 16 years.
Buddy Hield was that good. He was 2006-07 Acie Law. He was Kevin Durant at Texas. He was 2010-11 Jimmer Fredette. He was J.J. Redick at Duke. This was the latest all-timer of a game from one of the best college players in quite some time, and LSU bore the brunt on Saturday.
The Tigers actually did a solid job on him in the first half, but he got loose in the final 20 minutes, dropping 20 points on six three-points. He finished with 32, 8-of-15 beyond the arc. Hield was the ace in the hole, the likely consensus player of the year and that's no knock on Ben Simmons (we'll get to him later). Seriously, his Ken Pomeroy offensive efficiency rating is better than any of those college legends mentioned above. Before we address anything LSU related, it's important to understand that the Tigers ran up against a juggernaut at the height of his powers. It was frankly awesome to watch as a basketball fan and demoralizing for LSU fans.
And otherwise? What a game. It was one of the best I've seen in college basketball this season, just a notch below the Sooners' triple-overtime loss at Kansas. Did you think LSU was capable of being mentioned in the same sentence as that?
That's not to say this isn't a demoralizing loss. The Tigers had a chance to seize a tournament bid and blew a 14-point lead. Their best player didn't touch the ball after the last official timeout. The passing was sloppy and unworthy of the game's importance to LSU.
But boy, did this team show up. They were on fire in the first half and breathing fire on defense. They were outworking the Sooners inside, executing a game plan to get OU in foul trouble and trailing the Sooner guards all over the 3-point line. It was exactly what this team is capable of considering the talent, a welcome sign as the schedule softens in February.
They might have been even better to open the second half. Even as Hield heated up, Simmons made some moves, including a jaw-dropping move past Khadeem Latin capped by a reverse dunk.
LSU still had a 61-51 lead with 10 minutes to play, but Hield just took over. He poured in 15 of Oklahoma's next 18, almost single-handedly propelling OU into the lead. The rest of the game wavered back and forth until the final seconds, when Isaiah Cousins drained a 15-footer over Jalyn Patterson. The irony of another Sooner guard beside Hield sealing the game is not lost on me.
So where did LSU go wrong here? Well, some composure would have helped. The passing was puzzling at best down the stretch, and it gave Oklahoma just enough extra possessions. Tim Quarterman showed up big time, dropping 18 points in an energetic effort, but it was a double-edged sword. He was also reckless at times, nowhere moreso than his passing and command of the offense.
And that offense, oh, that Johnny Jones offense. I've spilled enough ink regarding what I think about his coaching ability in recent seasons, so I'll try to keep it brief. There's no excuse for Simmons not to get a shot in the final 4:46, including multiples possessions immediately out of timeouts. LSU owned a size and skill advantage on the block and had OU in foul trouble. You have to keep going to that well.
Now, Johnny can't get Hornsby to make better entry passes or Quarterman to set Simmons up better, at least not in the immediate moment. And some of this is absolutely on Simmons, though the constant digs at his assertiveness belie the deeper issues at play. But Johnny and former NBA coach Brendan Suhr have to devise a better offense than the one that showed up in the second half. Seriously, if I have to watch Simmons hold the ball near the 3-point line again with nary an LSU guard attempting to cut to the rim or setting double screens, I might scream.
Let's talk about Simmons. I thought he did a whole lot right much of the game. His turnovers early were just being too amped up, and you can live with that. When his teammates were on fire in the opening half, he wisely let them do their thing because Oklahoma was keying on him so much.
Then, he took over out of the chute in the second half, spurring that early push that gave LSU a double-digit lead. Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger did make a great adjustment by switching on all screens and then trapping to counteract Simmons' gravitational pull in LSU's offense. Still, there's no reasonable excuse for LSU not to find him on the block more. As Brent Musburger said on the broadcast, he'll flourish more with development on his shot, a freer-flowing NBA game and a coach who knows how to use him.
He wasn't as good as Hield, but again, that's no insult. Hield is on another planet right now, and Simmons is working against some extraneous forces. His shortcomings are present yet we'd be killing him (remember the Florida game) if he was just barreling to the rim without regard. He deserves better from this staff.
It was obviously beyond frustrating to come so close and not get such a season-changing win. It does speak well of LSU's ability and talent level that they could go toe-to-toe with arguably the best team and player in the country at his peak. The February schedule is pillow-soft, even by SEC standards, and LSU is a robust 9-4 with the entire lineup healthy and eligible.
A win would have defined LSU's season. The loss won't, but the response to it will. You can't replicate the exact intangibles of this game but the Tigers should absolutely believe in themselves after maxing out versus college basketball's elite. The team that was on display Saturday in the PMAC is a NCAA Tournament team. Let's hope they get to prove it in March.