OKLAHOMA CITY — No better place for the Oklahoma Sooners than Oklahoma City.
Sooners fans turned out en masse on Sunday afternoon for OU’s 85-81 victory over VCU, lifting their team early and pulling them along late.
“The crowd helped us a lot,” Buddy Hield said after scoring 36 points. “Even when VCU came out and they had their run, I know the crowd had the momentum going on.”
It was loud. And it mattered.
As OU basketball has experienced a renaissance under Lon Kruger, Lloyd Noble Center attendance has swelled, participation has crescendoed and the noise has grown.
On Sunday in the NCAA Tournament, Chesapeake Arena was Lloyd Noble North.
“Great crowd,” Kruger said. “The crowd was fantastic. Certainly made a difference down the stretch, no doubt about that.”
There’s no doubt, it was a road game for VCU.
As OU surged to a 21-7 lead, the Sooners were buoyed by their fans, some 16,000 strong — maybe more.
But it did get oddly quiet when VCU rallied to take a 62-61 lead with 9:54 to play.
“We’ve been really good on the road all year,” VCU coach Will Wade said. “We really thrived on the road, and our guys fed off that. We knew if we could get it close, I thought everybody would kind of get nervous in the arena and we could maybe flip it a little bit.”
“Yeah, it’s fun,” said VCU guard Melvin Johnson. “The odds were against us. It was a win-win situation. Everyone pretty much counted us out, so our backs were against the wall, and when your back is against the wall, all you’ve got to do is fight.
“At one point, I didn’t even hear the crowd, and I told the guys, this is what we wanted to do. We wanted to have their crowd against them. It was quiet. Our little 100 fans were extremely loud. That’s all I heard at one point. That’s all I can ask for when the opposing team has 18,000 fans in attendance.”
But it was Hield who brought the Sooners back into the lead, and with them the Sooner fans.
“They just responded,” Wade said. “They’ve got the best player in the country and he made huge, huge plays.”
As Hield scored 29 of his 36 points after halftime, OU fans got louder and louder.
“The crowd was there all night,” Hield said, “and us making shots and them being there helped us build up momentum and keep us to keep going.”