Oral Roberts stuns NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament opponents, captures national attention

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Oral Roberts University has become the belle of the ball after upsetting Florida on Sunday night in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament to make the Sweet 16.

The Golden Eagles are only the second No. 15 seed to make it this far in the men’s tournament, joining Florida Gulf Coast University, which made it to the same round in 2013 before, ironically, losing to Florida.

Oral Roberts won the Summit League championship to get the automatic bid. The team knocked off North Dakota, South Dakota State and North Dakota State to earn the conference title. The team then beat Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

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The team has been buoyed by incredible performances from Kevin Obanor and Max Abmas.

Obanor scored 30 points in the overtime victory against Ohio State and 28 points against Florida. Abmas added 29 points against the Buckeyes and 26 points against the Gators. They have been the only Golden Eagles players to score at least 10 points in their first two tournament games.

“It’s really just mind blowing,” Obanor said Sunday night after the win over Florida. “We’re grateful. Just happy that we got the win.”

Oral Roberts forward Kevin Obanor (0) shoots over Florida forward Colin Castleton (12) during the second half of a college basketball game in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Sunday, March 21, 2021 in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

After beating Ohio State, Oral Roberts coach Paul Mills said the number beside their name didn’t matter to them.

“We are not capitulating to anybody here,” he said.

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Oral Roberts doesn’t have an extensive men’s basketball history. The private evangelical university in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was founded in 1963 and it was nine years later when they joined NCAA Division I basketball as an independent school. The school only boasts about 4,000 undergraduate students.

The Golden Eagles had some success almost immediately. The team won 20 or more games in their first six years of existence. The team made the regional final in the 1974 tournament, though it wasn’t as extensive as March Madness is known presently.

Oral Roberts forward Francis Lacis (22) celebrates after a college basketball game against Florida in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Sunday, March 21, 2021 in Indianapolis. Oral Roberts won 81-78. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

On that 1973-74 team, future NBA players Anthony Roberts and Alvin Scott were among the top performers. The team beat Syracuse and Louisville only to lose to Kansas in the regional final.

It wouldn’t be until 1984 when Oral Roberts would make another NCAA Tournament. However, the Dick Acres-led squad was bounced from the first round.

Oral Roberts would make the tournament for three consecutive seasons between 2006 and 2008 but wouldn’t make it past the first round. The 2007-08 season would be last time Oral Roberts made the tournament before this season’s appearance.

The team was 18-10 overall with a 10-5 record in Summit League play.

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Oral Roberts still has its work cut out. To become the first team to make the Elite 8, the Golden Eagles will have to beat No. 3 Arkansas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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