Oral Roberts ready for another run
Kevin Obanor and Max Abmas led Oral Roberts University to the Sweet 16 in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Then Obanor transferred to Texas Tech and made the Sweet 16 with the Red Raiders.
But Abmas stayed at ORU, and now he's got the Golden Eagles riding high, while Obanor's Red Raiders are struggling to make the NCAA Tournament at all.
Abmas posted 26 points and 11 assists Tuesday night in Sioux Falls, S.D., as the Golden Eagles routed North Dakota State 92-58 to win the Summit League championship and make the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in ORU history.
“I'm happy for them,” Obanor said Tuesday in Kansas City, where his Red Raiders play West Virginia on Wednesday night in the Big 12 Tournament's first round. “A school that glorifies God. And from what we were able to do at the time, go to the Sweet 16, that was my whole motive going, leaving something better than I found it, and for that legacy to be continued, I'm happy to see that.
“Just proud of everything that's been accomplished at that university.”
Abmas and 2021 holdovers Kareem Thompson, Carlos Jurgens and DeShang Weaver lead ORU, and 7-foot-5 Arkansas transfer Connor Vanover is an imposing shot blocker.
To win in March, you have to have experience,” ORU coach Paul Mills said after beating North Dakota State. “About once a week, we show our guys a graphic, that you gotta have a game for March. But we don't have to show ‘em a graphic; they understand.”
ORU went 18-0 in the Summit League, then swept three games in Sioux Falls. But without winning that conference tournament, the Golden Eagles, 30-4 overall, knew they were in danger of being bypassed for the NCAAs. Such is life in a low-major conference.
ORU and North Dakota State played in the 2021 Summit championship game, and the Golden Eagles had a 25point halftime lead. But the Bison came all the way back to tie the game in the final minute, before three ORU foul shots in the final 15 seconds produced a 75-72 victory.
This time, the Golden Eagles kept their foot on the accelerator.
“I think in the championship game, we did a good job starting off with the right energy,” Abmas said on ESPN's broadcast. “We understand we gotta carry that into the NCAA Tournament, especially if we want to win some games.”
Winning games is exactly what ORU did two Marches ago, winning close fits against Ohio State and Florida, before losing a tight game against Arkansas.
Now the Golden Eagles are headed back to the NCAA Tournament, without Obanor, but with hopes of a 2021 repeat.