Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Evangelical Oral Roberts University shocks Ohio State in NCAA Tournament's 1st upset

After an incredible run through the Summit League tournament, Oral Roberts University is continuing to dance in the NCAA Tournament. The No. 15 seed in the South Region, ORU shocked second-seeded Ohio State on Friday with a 75-72 overtime win.

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It’s the first upset of the 2021 tournament, and the Golden Eagles become the ninth 15-seed to win a first-round game (and first since 2016, when Middle Tennessee shocked Michigan State). It gives ORU its first NCAA Tournament win in 47 years, as this year marks the Golden Eagles’ first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008.

Not surprisingly, ORU was led by guard Max Abmas, who finished with 29 points. He was the nation’s leading scorer in the regular season, averaging 24.2 per game.

But on Friday, the Golden Eagles’ leading scorer was actually forward Kevin Obanor, who scored seven of Oral Roberts’ 11 points in overtime, including two free throws with 13 seconds left. He finished with 30 points and 11 rebounds.

“It means a lot. I’m very grateful for the opportunity,” Obanor said after the game. “I’m thankful for God putting us in this position. It means a lot to become the underdogs and put our school on a higher pedestal, that’s all a kid can ask for and I’m just very grateful for the opportunity.”

It’s safe to say ORU wouldn’t be in the Big Dance if it weren’t for Obanor. Last week, in the semifinals of the Summit League Conference tournament, Obanor tipped in a miss at the buzzer to put ORU past South Dakota State, 90-88.

In a press conference following the thrilling win, Obanor thanked Jesus.

“I’m thankful to Jesus Christ for putting us in this position,” he said. “We want it very bad. It’s bigger than us, just to leave a legacy behind for ORU. I’m just very eternally grateful and I just can’t wait to play tomorrow.”

That win put Oral Roberts into the Summit League championship game, where it defeated North Dakota State, 75-72, to clinch the conference’s automatic berth.

After Friday’s win over Ohio State, the Golden Eagles gathered on the court to pray as a team. That’s a regular occurrence for these players from the private evangelical university in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The school is named for its founder Oral Roberts, the famous evangelist who founded the university in 1963. Its mission is to “develop Holy Spirit-empowered leaders through whole person education to impact the world.”

“We develop whole leaders for the whole world through a unique Whole Person education,” says the school’s website. “Spirit-empowered leaders come to ORU, not to ‘stay’ in their faith, but to GROW in faith.”

Leading the ORU men is head coach Paul Mills, who took over the reins to the program in April 2017 after 14 years on staff at Baylor. He often shares about his faith and did so with the media after Friday’s win.

“I listen to Psalm 1:18 before every game and it says, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,'” Mills said. “And we’re grateful, as Kevin mentioned … I’m glad that they have the experience of actually playing in March Madness and to have it be an enjoyable experience.”

With the victory, the ORU men’s basketball team is bringing a lot of newfound attention to the university. It gets a chance to continue its March run when it plays seventh-seeded Florida on Sunday.

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