Oral Roberts became only the second No. 15 seed to ever reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament when the Golden Eagles eliminated No. 7 seed Florida 81-78 on Sunday. Just two days after Oral Roberts was taken to a shocking upset by No. 2 seed Ohio State, the duo of Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor came out great again with a combined 54 points.
Florida led 67-56 with 9:48 to go, but turned cold late when Oral Roberts again proved it has the clutch gene. The Eagles mostly stuck to the free-throw line, hitting 19 of the 23 attempts.
The next match for Oral Roberts is a Sweet 16 match with No. 3 seed Arkansas, who survived Texas Tech 68-66 on Sunday. The teams have already met once this season and Oral Roberts has scared the Razorbacks. The Golden Eagles actually led 40-30 at half-time before Arkansas roared for a 87-76 victory.
But Oral Roberts has since proven it can handle anyone in the country, and if it beats Arkansas, it would become the first No. 15 seed to ever reach the Elite Eight. The only other No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16 was Florida Gulf Coast in 2013, when it defeated No. 2 Seed Georgetown and No. 7 seed San Diego State on the first weekend and lost to No. 3 seed Florida in the first weekend. Sweet 16.
Abmas entered the NCAA tournament as the nation’s top scorer and has only increased his lead in that category so far with two heroic screenings in the NCAA tournament. Obanor has been by his side in box scores all season and has even shifted his game up a gear on the big stage.
The two combined scored 59 points, as each of them played every second of the overtime win against Buckeyes. Both played the entire game again on Sunday and Obanor saved his best for last. The 6-foot-8 junior scored 20 of his 28 points in the second half, 13 of them in the last 10 minutes.
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Paul Mills took the coaching job from Oral Roberts for the 2017-18 season after working with Baylor’s staff under Scott Drew from 2003 to 2017. Now he is just one win away from a possible match with his old team. Baylor is the No. 1 seed in the South region. With a win over Arkansas, Oral Roberts would likely face Baylor with a Final Four spot on the line.
The first meeting between ORU and the Razorbacks took place on December 20, and Arkansas caught fire in the second half with 57 points to avoid a loss. But Abmas had an unusually quiet game, scoring just 11 points on 4-of-11 shots. Arkansas will have to rethink the tire and see what it did to include the 6-foot-1 alternator in that match, as the defense strategies used by Ohio State and Florida clearly failed.
The Gators failed to score 2:29 in the final after earning a comfortable lead midway through the second half. In the end, they were outpaced 25-11 on the trajectory as their season of adversity came to a disappointing end.
In some ways, reaching the eve of the Sweet 16 should be considered a success for Florida after the preseason SEC Player of the Year lost Keyontae Johnson to the season following his terrifying collapse in Florida State court on December 12. But the Gators rallied without him, even reaching No. 22 in the AP poll in February. However, Florida has lost four of the last six games and these are now three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances that prevent Florida from escaping the first weekend.
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