As Buddy Hield walked off the court at at Allen Fieldhouse following No. 2 Oklahoma's three-overtime, 109-106 loss to No. 1 Kansas, he got a standing ovation from a crowd that would usually boo him.
This came just minutes after the Kansas coaches and players all stopped Hield in the postgame handshake line, laughing and congratulating him on a stellar night. This wasn't just an opponent being polite; it was real recognizing real—the Jayhawks recognizing the greatest individual effort we'll see all college basketball season, and might see for quite some time.
The Sooners star scored 46 points, more than anyone has scored in a game this season, and Hield did it at Allen Fieldhouse, of all places, in front of possibly the most hostile crowd a visiting player will face all season. He did it while playing 54 of the game's 55 minutes, tugging at his jersey while hitting three-pointers and driving to the hoop to the very end.
Hield smiled at the end, too, while chatting with Kansas star Perry Ellis, who went toe-to-toe with him in one of the greatest back-and-forth performances of the season. Losing this game was disappointing, sure, but this was the type of game that nobody left thinking that the winner was far better than the loser. By the time it was over, it's hard to imagine anyone leaving with anything but an all-around appreciation. They had just watched the greatest regular season college basketball game anyone had ever witnessed, and any response but gratitude would be churlish.
The result was merely an afterthought.
"Best regular season game ever" is a big claim, and one that screams recency bias. There have been crazier games than this one. The Syracuse-UConn six-overtime game might end up as the craziest game of all-time, but it wasn't as well-played as this one. These were the top two teams in the country trading leads for 60 minutes.
The game was played at nearly an NBA tempo, but featured very few unforced turnovers. When Hield did miss a shot, it was because of incredible defense by Frank Mason, who guarded him all night long. The best players on each team dominated, and all of them played at least 43 minutes. For Oklahoma, Hield scored 46, Ryan Spangler scored 14, Jordan Woodard scored 27 and Khadeem Lattin scored 10. For Kansas, Ellis scored 27, Mason scored 15, Devonte' Graham scored 20 and Wayne Selden scored 21.
Even the announcers—old-timers Dick Vitale and Brent Musburger; two longtime sports broadcasters who have seen some shit—couldn't think of a better game. Vitale's only other suggestion was a Duke-North Carolina game when former Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel, who is now 40 years old, played for the Blue Devils.
The aftermath was a modern sports rarity: pure, unadulterated appreciation. There were no sweeping hot takes declaring the Sooners chokers and the Jayhawks somehow more clutch. The Kansas fans, who spent the first 35 minutes angry at the referees, seemed to completely forget about their complaints.
There are only three takeaways from this game. The first is that Hield is unquestionably the leader of the National Player of the Year race. Statistically, he was the best player in the country coming into this game, according to KenPom.com, and he backed it up against Kansas in the both box score and through the eye test.
The second is that these are the two best teams in the country right now. Separating them doesn't make sense. Oklahoma will probably drop in the polls, because how we vote in polls is dumb, but they shouldn't. Hell, there would be a case for putting the Sooners at No. 1, considering that this game happened on the road. They'll meet again on February 13 in Norman, in a game that could very well decide the Big 12 title.
But the most important takeaway? That basketball is good as hell, and that this game was just plain incredible. Everyone at Allen Fieldhouse knew it was the best game they would ever witness at an arena that has been home to some of the biggest names and best games in college basketball history. You don't give a standing ovation to the guy who just hung 46 points on the home team unless you know you've just seen something extremely special.
Best regular season game ever is a big claim, but this one absolutely deserves that title.