KANSAS CITY — Buddy Hield’s 44-foot miracle shot came a nanosecond too late, making West Virginia’s Jaysean Paige the hero instead.
Paige’s step-back jumper with 11.1 seconds sent the No. 9 Mountaineers ahead in an exhausting 69-67 win at the Big 12 tournament semifinal.
No. 6 Oklahoma (25-7) nearly completed a stirring comeback despite suffocating defense on Hield.
The All-American, enduring his worst game of the season, scored only six points on 1-of-8 shooting. His would-be ninth shot would have made amends for that. He caught an inbounds pass with 1.8 seconds and banked in a heave from halfcourt, sending the Sprint Center into bedlam and Hield climbing atop the press table.
Then officials surrounded the replay monitor—with 18,972 fans judging along on the video board—and waived off the shot.
West Virginia’s turn to go nuts. Jonathan Holton replaced Hield atop the press row.
“As soon as they waved it off, I’m like it’s my turn,” Holton said. “And Coach Huggs was saying ‘Hey! Get back here.’ and I’m like ’Oh lord, I gotta go.’ And Huggs was right. This was just one game and tomorrow we’ve got another one.”
West Virginia (26-7), which came to Kansas City without winning a single conference tournament game in five years, now heads to Saturday night’s Big 12 title game against top-ranked Kansas.
Nearly obscured by the frantic finish was Jevon Carter scoring a season-high 26 points on 6-of-9 shooting from 3-point range. His only teammate in double figures was Paige, who scored all 10 points in the final 11 minutes.
Isaiah Cousins scored 15 and reserve Christian James delivered 13 for the Sooners, who swept WVU during the regular season and used a 20-5 run to lead 67-64 in the final minute.
But then Paige hit two free throws, Cousins missed a jumper, and WVU had its chance, which Paige converted with an 18-foot jumper.
“We just ran an iso for him on top, and he’s been making shots all year,” said assistant Ron Everhart. “When I saw he got space and raised up, I went ‘Oh yeah!’”
Oklahoma nearly answered, not with Hield or Cousins or Jordan Woodard or Ryan Spangler, but rather the freshman James. He drove through the middle of the Mountaineers defense—contorting slightly to avoid Devin Williams attempting to draw a charge—and left a layup short. Holton grabbed the rebound in a crowd and was fouled with 1.8 seconds left.
Holton missed the first free throw and made the second, setting up what nearly became Hield’s latest, greatest highlight.
Paige, gingerly crowding Hield as he fired from midcourt, “was in shock” when the shot centered the backboard square and caromed in.
Tarik Phillip, deflated in disbelief, went to shake hands:
“My head was all messed up already because we lost and we gave this one away again,” he said. “Then I heard a commotion and looked up at the big board. Everybody’s like, ‘No good! No good!’ I stopped shaking hands and I went back to my team.”
Devin Williams had nine points and 11 rebounds. West Virginia improved 23-3 when it outrebounds the opponent, though the margin was tight at 30-29.
Paige didn’t score until 10:46 remained in the game and Hield’s first basket came exactly one minute later.
Hield took only one shot in the first 11 minutes and didn’t score until 1:02 before half—and only then because he was fouled by Phillip on a runout and made two free throws.
The defense on Hield was relentless as was the full-court pressure that coaxed Oklahoma into 21 turnovers.
“I thought West Virginia had us on our heels with their press,” Lon Kruger said. “I don’t think we handled that well at all.”