OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard lofted an alley-oop pass that Khadeem Lattin grabbed and flushed, causing one of many eruptions from the sea of red-clad Sooners fans.
With that, the Sooners finally had the momentum edge they needed to fend off Virginia Commonwealth 85-81 Sunday evening in an NCAA Tournament West Region second-round game at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Buddy Hield scored 29 of his game-high 36 points in the second half, as usual playing his best when it mattered most as the second-seeded Sooners (27-7) advanced to the Sweet 16.
"Unbelievable performance by Hield there down the stretch," VCU coach Will Wade said. "Every time they needed a big basket, he answered the bell. He's just a phenomenal player. Best player I've seen in college basketball."
Hield hit a 3-pointer that gave Oklahoma a 69-67 lead with 6:37 left. A little more than a minute later, Woodard and Lattin hooked up for their highlight-reel play that boosted the Sooners' margin to six points.
Those two key baskets came during Oklahoma's 9-0 run that produced a 75-67 lead with 4:51 to play. Tenth-seeded VCU (25-11) came back relentlessly through the game's first 35 minutes, but the Rams couldn't survive Oklahoma's last surge.
"As a team, we just held our composure and just moved on to the next play whatever happened," Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins said. "The last possession, whether it was a turnover or a bad shot, we just had to get it back the next possession and keep fighting through adversity because we knew if we get on a run with the crowd, the crowd was amazing."
Woodard scored 17 points and Cousins had 15 as the guard trio once again drove the Oklahoma attack.
Guard Melvin Johnson led the Rams with 23 points, and backcourt partner JeQuan Lewis added 22.
However, it was Hield's day as the Sooners celebrated advancing to the Sweet with a win just a few miles from their campus in Norman, Okla. Oklahoma fans chanted "Buddy" as time ran out and the Sooners senior played his last game so close to home.
"It was special, but I couldn't do it all without my teammates," Hield said. "They find me in good spots."
VCU center Mo Alie-Cox went straight through the lane for a thundering dunk and forward Michael Gilmore hit a pair of 3-pointers to propel a 14-2 run that put the Rams ahead 62-61 after Gilmore's second trey with 9:55 left.
That set off a flurry of lead changes as the Sooners and Rams grappled for momentum heading in to crunch time.
Earlier in the second half, Alie-Cox scored his first four points in the game as the Rams went into the paint to ignite an 11-2 run. Alie-Cox made a jump shot in the lane to cap the run that cut Oklahoma's 13-point halftime lead to four with 16:40 left.
Woodard answered by scoring five consecutive points to re-establish a nine-point lead, and the trend was set for the second half.
Hield went scoreless for the first 10 minutes of action as he missed his first four shots. However, Oklahoma still found plenty of offense as it opened up a 21-7 lead when Woodard hit a 3-pointer.
Sooners forward Ryan Spangler threw a pair of alley-oops to Lattin during Oklahoma's early run to ignite the heavily partisan crowd.
"It is a demoralizing to an extent because coming into the game, of course, a lot of the attention is towards Buddy," Johnson said. "And then his (supporting) cast, Isaiah, Jordan, Spangler, et cetera, they all begin the half really well, and he didn't even score at this point."
VCU fought back as Lewis made a jumper and Gilmore had a dunk to stop the Sooners' surge.
Lewis followed with a 3-pointer and a shot in the lane during a Rams 8-2 run that sliced Oklahoma's lead to five with 6:02 left before halftime.
Hield eventually found his rhythm and scored seven points in the first 20 minutes. However, he picked up his second foul and went to the bench for the final 4:25 of the half.
Cousins and Woodard picked up the offensive load as they scored 12 and 10 points, respectively, to lead the Sooners to a 44-31 lead at the break.
"I feel like we made a lot of good plays for each other early in the game, passing some lobs to Khadeem and Jordan, and finding Khadeem at the rim," Hield said. "Everybody just played together as a group and looked like ourselves."
Lewis led VCU with 13 points in the first half.
NOTES: VCU was in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive season. The Rams' first-round victory over Oregon State snapped a three-game losing streak in the opening round. ... Oklahoma G Buddy Hield, who entered the game averaging 25 points, scored 27 in the Sooners' first-round win over CSU Bakersfield. Sunday marked the 18th time this season Hield scored 25 or more in a game. ... VCU and Oklahoma split four previous meetings, with the Rams winning the most recent matchup on Nov. 21, 2009.