by RENALDO DORSETT
SYRACUSE, NEW YORK – Buddy Hield had the better individual performance, but the game will always be remembered for Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr.
Hield scored a team high 21 points and grabbed six rebounds for the Oklahoma Sooners while Nairn finished with just one assist in 11 minutes, but the Michigan State Spartans emerged with the 62-58 last night at the Carrier Dome.
With over 24,000 in attendance and millions of college Basketball enthusiasts around the world, the Bahamas got unlimited exposure with the future NBA prospects going head to head.
The Spartans, now the lowest seeded team left in the field at No.7 in the East Region, will advanced to the Regional Final, or Elite 8, where they will face the No.4 Louisville Cardnials.
With a quick turnaround before the Spartans get ready to face the Cardinals, Nairn said he remains thankful and is continuing to embrace the moment.
“It means a lot to me to share that experience with him [Hield] , blood wouldn’t make us any closer I learned a lot from him and he means a lot to me outside of basketball,” he said “But that win meant everything to me last night. God is truly amazing , I thank him for what he’s doing in my life. I’m a kid from the Bahamas starting under Tom Izzo as a freshmen in the Elite Eight. Words can’t explain the emotion I’m feeling. I know why it’s so surreal to me, because of where I come from.”
Both players were introduced last in the starting lineup for their respective teams, made a point to acknowledge each other prior to tipoff and shared a special moment after the final buzzer sounded.
“I told him ‘Go win it all,'” Hield said. “Since they beat us, we’re not the only team they can beat. So go win it all.”
The Oklahoma star said the outcome of the game will serve as another talkig point in their friendly rivalry.
“Tum Tum talks too much. I’m disappointed and I know he’s going to talk about it,” he said, “When we go back home or to Sunrise he will to talk about it. I’d rather me talk about it than him.”
The connection between the two has been well documented, moving from Nassau and Grand Bahama respectively to Sunshine Academy in Bel Aire, Kansas.
“I looked up to him [Hield] a lot because I’d never seen a guy who would work as hard as me,” Nairn said. “After that, we worked out every day after practice together. We worked out in the mornings together. Buddy is a guy that’s full of joy, just like me. I’m always talking, he’s always talking. He’s loud, I’m loud. I’m full of energy, I’m full of life and he’s the same way, and that helped us to mesh so well.
After years of coming up short against Hield, Nairn got the edge in the biggest matchup to date between the two.
“After the season, we would play pick-up every day after school. We played 300-400 times and he’s beaten me a lot more times than I beat him, but I can say I’m the only one who’s beaten him one-on-one,” he said.
Hield got off to a quick start, making a three pointer on the Sooners’ second possession and his three point play gave the Sooners a 16-8 lead near the 15 minute mark.
His second three pointer of the game gave the Sooners a 10 point lead for the first time, 23-13 with 8:53 left to play in the first half.
They took a 31-27 lead into the half.
With the Sooners offence struggling early in the second half, we saw a brief glimpse of those famed one on one matchups between the Bahamian duo.
After a loose ball scramble, Hield emerged with the ball, guarded by Nairn.
He finished with a jump hook over Nairn, was fouled, and successfully converted three point play for a 42-39 advantage.
The Spartans moved ahead for the first time when Branden Dawson made a jumper in the lane for a 44-42 lead with 9:26 left to play.
After the teams traded leads back and forth, the Spartans took control late, up 58-53 with 1:19 left to play.
Hield made a three with just over a minute left to play, but it would be as close as the Sooners would manage as the Spartans went 4-4 from the line down the stretch.
They will face Louisville tomorrow at 2:20pm in the Carrier Dome for the right to advance to the Final Four.