Oral Roberts: The shoe fits


The Volante, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Oral Roberts in a game against South Dakota on Jan. 25, 2020.

Matt McGrath, Staff Writer

Selection Sunday occurred March 14th, with hopeful-eyed fans charting what they believed to be every plausible scenario in their dozens of March Madness entries.

It always starts with the assumed first-round victories by all one, two, and three seeds, with upsets trickled in from other teams after that. However, with a March Sadness in 2020, it seems as though the 68 teams in this year’s field decided to make up for all the madness we had missed last year.

Little do they know, though, that the improbable would occur throughout the near entirety of the first two rounds. Of the 16 seeds in each quadrant, 14 different numbered seeds won a game on the Friday this all began, a record for the decades this tournament has been played. No. 13-seeds Ohio and North Texas tallied the biggest wins in school history, and No. 14-seed Abilene Christian handled the Texas Longhorns in a thriller.

However, one has stood out beyond reason: Oral Roberts University. ORU is a quaint school, housing roughly 4,000 total students in Tulsa, Ok. Few had heard of them heading to victory in the tournament, with few lucky fans chalking them to win. However, local journalist scholars Dan DelBene and I had done our fair share of research.

After a short bout of analysis, we figured out some flaws to opponent Ohio State’s defense, in comparison to ORU’s offense. The Golden Eagles were led by the nation’s top scorer, Max Abmas, as well as a cast with the best free-throw percentage, and eighth-best three-point percentage in the hundreds of college basketball teams.

Dan and I were excited, calling the upset days in advance, and then came the game itself.

Per ESPN’s “Tournament Challenge,” only 5% of all of the millions of entries had Oral Roberts winning in the first round. The game was close through and through, with Max Abmas and role-player Obanor making threes left and right. With many doubters fearing bracket-busts, college basketball fans were in denial of it even being a possibility.

But eventually, a Cinderella story needs to happen, and this is one to remember for the rest of time. After blowing a two-point lead in the final minute, Ohio State allowed Oral Roberts to force overtime. At this point, it was anybody’s game. With just five minutes to save the season, ORU’s free throws came in handy, getting fouled multiple times and heading to the charity stripe. Five points were the eventual victory margin, taking down the Buckeyes 77-72 on shooting guard Washington’s poor performance all game.

Per upset-caller Dan DelBene, his reasoning as to why the Golden Eagles would win was rather simple: “They had phenomenal team chemistry and a will to win.” This is true, as you could see noticeable excitement during their match-up announcement on March 14th’s Selection Show.

After just the ninth ever 15-seed upset over a No. 2 seed, the coach still felt like there was unfinished business, practically asking that the players soak in this feeling, but keep on pushing.

Push they did, as they then defeating No. 7-seed Florida in another nail-biter. In another match-up where all the signs pointed to the Gators, Oral Roberts was fearless, slashing a 9-point deficit in the second half to win the game by three points.

After the comeback, Oral Roberts fans and players united into a beautiful army chanting “Cinderella!” endlessly, celebrating the historic feat. In the history of March Madness, this is just the second time a No. 15 seed has gone dancing to the Sweet 16 (Florida Gulf Coast University, 2013), and they now aim to defeat Moses Moody and the Arkansas Razorbacks, a No. 3 seed looking to make this deep an appearance for the first time in a long time.

March Madness has seen its fair share of Cinderella teams. But Oral Roberts is the one to remember for the rest of time. March 27 at 7:25 p.m. ET, we’ll see if they’re elite eight bound. Until then, sit back, relax, and go Golden Eagles!

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