Take a breath, college basketball fans. You deserve it.
The Kansas Jayhawks outlasted the Oklahoma Sooners 109-106 on Monday night in a triple-overtime clash between the top two teams in the nation. It was the type of tense, nerve-wracking contest that likely had more than just Kansas and Oklahoma supporters holding their breath.
The tilt featured legendary Allen Fieldhouse as the backdrop and a once-in-a-lifetime performance by the Sooners' Buddy Hield, which made it all the more incredible.
ESPN Stats & Info put the game into historical perspective:
Last time a 1 vs 2 game went triple-overtime, Wilt Chamberlain was starting C for Kansas (1957 title game vs UNC) pic.twitter.com/XSuPgkyNNr— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 5, 2016
NCAA director of media coordination and statistics David Worlock added even more context:
First 2OT 1 vs. 2 game in DI MBB history. College football has had 1: 13 years and 1 day ago: Ohio St. 24, Miami 17 in national title game.— David Worlock (@DavidWorlock) January 5, 2016
The Sooners haven't won at Allen Fieldhouse since 1993, and not even a career-high 46 points, eight rebounds and seven assists from Hield was enough to snap the streak. Despite the loss, the Oklahoma superstar captured the attention of many across the nation, including Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:
First time seeing Buddy Hield in person, and all I have to say is: Damn.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 5, 2016
The Sooners also received 27 points from Jordan Woodard, but it was the balanced attack of Kansas that prevailed. Perry Ellis led the way with 27 points and 13 rebounds, while Wayne Selden Jr. scored 21 points, Devonte' Graham added 20 and Frank Mason III tallied 15 and nabbed what proved to be the game-winning steal in the third overtime.
It was a fitting, drama-filled game for the teams that were ranked No. 1 (Kansas) and No. 2 (Oklahoma) in the Associated Press Top 25 heading into Monday's showdown.
According to the AP, via ESPN.com, Monday was only the 40th time the country's top two teams played in the regular season and the first time since 2013. It was also only the 10th time that it happened with teams in the same conference and the first time since 2007.
There was a raucous home crowd, and Kansas jumped out to an 11-point lead in the first half. However, the Sooners came storming back in the final few minutes before halftime and actually took a 44-40 lead into the locker rooms.
Shane Jackson of the University Daily Kansan described the turnaround:
OU went from the 18:20 mark to the 2:23 mark without consecutive buckets. But ended the half with 5 straight FGs made, including three 3s— Shane Jackson (@jacksonshane3) January 5, 2016
Part of the problem for the Jayhawks was the foul disparity. Head coach Bill Self picked up a technical right before halftime, and his team entered intermission with 12 personal fouls compared to Oklahoma's five. Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com commented on the development:
We used to joke that KU never committed a foul at AFH but tonight that might be the case. Overshadows great resolve by Sooners to this point— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) January 5, 2016
Foul issues or not, Kansas could not stop Hield, who finished the first half with 22 points behind four three-pointers. ESPN Stats & Info recognized the guard's contributions:
Buddy Hield in 1st half: 22 points, 3 assists, 6-11 from field Rest of team: 22 points, 3 assists, 8-25 from the field— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 5, 2016
Brad Evans of Yahoo Sports described the problems Hield and Oklahoma created for the home squad:
Sooners' speed, ball movement and ability to splash from outside problematic for KU. Feel Jayhawks need to pound interior.— Brad Evans (@YahooNoise) January 5, 2016
Hield and the Sooners continued to set the pace early in the second half as they pushed their lead to double digits. Sports Illustrated noted Oklahoma went on a 28-7 run to establish what looked to be the foundation for a critical road victory early in the Big 12 schedule.
However, Selden came up with a steal, dunk and three-pointer within a 60-second stretch that trimmed the gap to 61-56 with less than 11 minutes remaining. Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated remarked on the back-and-forth between the two stars:
I could be good with clearing the floor and letting Buddy Hield and Wayne Selden just play to 21, win by two.— Brian Hamilton (@BrianHamiltonSI) January 5, 2016
Just when the Jayhawks had the crowd rocking and their deficit down to three, Oklahoma went on a mini-spurt of its own to seize a 68-60 advantage at the under-eight-minute timeout. Evans praised the visitors' efforts in the crucial moments of a heated conference game:
The one quality I love most about this Oklahoma team: When adversity strikes, Sooners continue to throw haymakers. Tough, gritty club.— Brad Evans (@YahooNoise) January 5, 2016
But Kansas reeled off an 8-0 run to tie the game with less than six minutes left. Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com set the scene:
A riveting game here that’s matched the hopes we had for it going in. Can’t ask for anything more than this of college hoops in January.— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) January 5, 2016
The teams continued to trade runs and entered the under-four timeout tied at 72 after Graham created an and-one in transition following an impressive defensive play.
The Sooners took a 75-73 lead when Woodard drilled a three-pointer with less than two minutes left. The play started with a clutch block by Khadeem Lattin, and CJ Moore of Bleacher Report pointed to a problem on the offensive side for Kansas:
KU is making itself too easy to guard with these work the clock and then set a ball screen plays. Need to get the ball moving.— CJ Moore (@CJMooreBR) January 5, 2016
As it did throughout the second half, Kansas responded with plays of its own. Ellis scored to tie the contest and then found the basket again with 45 seconds remaining to give his team a two-point lead. Sports Illustrated contributor Jake Fischer joked about the senior leader in the final minute:
It's not fair for Oklahoma that Kansas gets to repeatedly feed a 36-year-old, 12th-year senior in Perry Ellis down the stretch.— Jake Fischer (@JakeLFischer) January 5, 2016
Hield tied the game for Oklahoma with two free throws, and then on the other end, Lattin drew a controversial over-the-back foul with two seconds left. The Sooners were in the bonus, but Lattin clanked the front end of a one-and-one off the back rim to send the game to overtime.
Matt Scott of 247Sports was not pleased with the way the officials almost ended arguably the best game of the season:
Complete shame that these two terrific teams got taken over by 3 terrible refs #kubball— Matt Scott (@KUTheShiver) January 5, 2016
The Sooners built a five-point lead in the first extra period, largely because of Hield's dominance. He drilled a three-pointer after converting a layup, and Sam Vecenie of CBSSports.com reacted to the guard's play:
Buddy is unstoppable. He is not human. He has become a machine.— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) January 5, 2016
Graham scored and Ellis hit a three to tie the game, but the Sooners had the ball with 37 seconds left. Hield did not touch the ball, and Isaiah Cousins missed a three near the end of the shot clock. Vecenie could not believe the sequence:
Why did you run a play where Hield stays in the corner? Why? He's not even really a decoy in that scenario.— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) January 5, 2016
Kansas did not take advantage of its opportunity to win the game on the ensuing possession as both Ellis and Selden missed shots. Myron Medcalf of ESPN.com wasn't exactly impressed with Ellis' effort:
Perry Ellis took that shot like he saw a friend in the crowd, tried to pass to him, remembered he was playing and tried to adjust.— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) January 5, 2016
The start of the second overtime certainly didn't disappoint, as Sports Illustrated highlighted:
Double overtime starts with ... a three from Buddy Hield, who has 41 points. Kansas's Graham answers. Then Woodard answers. This game, man— SI College Hoops (@si_ncaabb) January 5, 2016
The teams traded defensive stops as physical exhaustion seemed to set in, and Kansas took possession with one minute left. Selden missed a shot, Cousins missed the counter and Mason III missed a potential game-winner.
Just like that, there was a third overtime. Rob Dauster of NBCSports.com wondered about the play call:
I'm not one to second-guess a dude that's won 11 straight Big 12 titles, but maaaybe the last-second Frank Mason iso isn't your best option?— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) January 5, 2016
It looked like Kansas was finally going to pull away when it had a 102-98 lead, but Hield drilled a three-pointer with just more than two minutes left to pull his team within one. The Sooners then made a defensive stop and took the lead on a basket by Lattin. Matt Yoder of Awful Announcing had a solid suggestion:
Just end the college basketball regular season now. We ain’t topping this.— Matt Yoder (@myoder84) January 5, 2016
Selden scored next to give the Jayhawks a 104-103 edge, but Woodard hit from three-point range on the ensuing possession to give Oklahoma a 106-104 lead with less than a minute to go. Mason had a chance to tie it but made only one of two free throws, but Graham drew Woodard's fifth and final foul in transition with 15 seconds left and converted both tries from the charity stripe for a 107-106 lead.
Oklahoma had the chance to set up one final possession, but Mason stole the inbounds pass. Scott Chasen of the University Daily Kansan noted it wasn't the first time the guard had done that:
Frank Mason III did the same thing at the World University Games. Stole the ball in a late game situation. His reaction time is unreal.— Scott Chasen (@SChasenKU) January 5, 2016
CBS Sports' Doug Gottlieb pointed out that the officials may have missed a critical call:
Ref hands the ball- tells defense to give 3 feet- he didn't do that. Bad officiating— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) January 5, 2016
Mason made both free throws to get his team to 109 points, and Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com passed along an "epic stat" from Rush the Court:
Kansas hoops scored 109 points tonight. Kansas football scored 108 points in 9 Big 12 games this season. Epic stat from @rushthecourt— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) January 5, 2016
Hield then missed a desperation, double-pump three-pointer on the other end. Three overtimes and 55 minutes later, the Jayhawks had won the game.
After two straight home games to open Big 12 play, the Jayhawks will hit the road for four of their next six contests before a break from the league slate. Kansas is a dominant home team, but it needs to play well on the road, especially since that break from the Big 12 schedule is a showdown with the Kentucky Wildcats.
The Jayhawks have their eyes on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and they'll have plenty of opportunities to boost their resume with clashes against Kentucky, Oklahoma, Baylor and two against both West Virginia and Iowa State before Selection Sunday.
As for the Sooners, they also want a top seed in March and still have the rematch with Kansas to go along with two games against West Virginia and Baylor and one versus Iowa State. Oklahoma next plays unranked Kansas State and Oklahoma State before battling with the Mountaineers, Cyclones and Bears in back-to-back-to-back contests.
There are not many breaks in the Big 12, but the team that nearly knocked off Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse on Monday can play with anyone.
It is a testament to the basketball fans at Kansas and Allen Fieldhouse that they recognized the incredible performance from Hield, despite the fact it came from the opposing team. Oklahoma Basketball passed along the interactions:
KU fans gave Buddy standing ovations as he returned to court for postgame media. Then he stuck around for autographs pic.twitter.com/rxu3MJVvxN— Oklahoma Basketball (@OU_MBBall) January 5, 2016
Talk in the aftermath revolved around how impressive the game truly was, and Sooners coach Lon Kruger said, “I don’t know that I’ve been in one better. Other than the result, of course,” per Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star.
The Jayhawks players echoed that sentiment. Graham said, “Fun isn't even the word. The crowd, the energy...that was great to be a part of,” per Kansas Basketball, while Mason III said, “That was the craziest game I’ve ever played in,” also per Kansas Basketball.
Mason’s defense on Hield was the primary reason the Sooners star didn’t score 60 or more points Monday. Self described Mason as “a pitbull…he’s a winner,” and called the final steal “ridiculous,” per Chasen.
Hield himself recognized how talented Mason was on the defensive side and said, “I was trying to get him a fifth…so he would quit guarding me so tight,” per Jackson.
The talent on display Monday was obvious, and Self said, “We beat a team tonight that could win a national championship,” per Kansas Basketball.
If Oklahoma does win the national title, it may have to go through the Jayhawks again, given how evenly matched the two sides were Monday.