Oral Roberts advances to Sweet 16: 'We're just happy to be a school that glorifies God'

Few people gave 15th-seeded Oral Roberts University much of a chance to knock off second-seeded Ohio State. Fewer still expected the Golden Eagles to advance to the Sweet 16.

But after an 81-78 come-from-behind victory over seventh-seeded Florida on Sunday night, ORU is just the second No. 15 seed in NCAA Tournament history to advance to the round of 16.

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Max Abmas, the nation’s regular-season leading scorer, finished with 26 points, but just like on Friday, junior forward Kevin Obanor was ORU’s leading scorer Sunday. He led all players with 28 points, four 3-pointers and 11 rebounds.

The Golden Eagles, who went on an incredible run through the Summit League tournament just to advance to the NCAA tourney, closed the game against Florida on a 25-11 run, erasing an 11-point lead Florida held with less than 10 minutes to go. They took their first lead of the second half, 77-76, when Obanor hit a basket with less than three minutes left.

“To God be the glory, we came out victorious,” Obanor told Tru TV reporter AJ Ross on the court after the game. He further glorified God when he later spoke to the rest of the media.

“It can go however far God wants it to,” he said when asked how far this team could go. “At the end of the day, we’re just happy to [be a] school that glorifies God. He deserves to be on a higher pedestal, and we’re just happy to play for Him, and we’re happy just to be in that spotlight at the highest [level] for college basketball and to keep winning. It’s God’s plan. We’re going to come out and compete, play to the best of our abilities, but we’re just going to let God handle it, and everything will happen naturally.”

Head coach Paul Mills, who took over the reins to the program in April 2017 after 14 years on staff at Baylor, spoke with the media as well Sunday night. He opened his comments by saying, “There’s a Gospel hymn that says, ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow.’ It’s a blessing to coach those guys in that locker room. It’s a blessing to win.”

Later, Mills was asked what he wanted to say to all the fans back home in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“One is ‘thank you.’ I mean, I tell our guys this often: We need to use our God-given abilities for God-given reasons, and we need to make sure — in a hundred years, none of us will be here, OK. And what our guys need to understand is we are really not that important. And you need to know that. As much as I admire Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there aren’t three people who gather every Sunday to celebrate his greatness. We are not going to sit around and act like we’re great.

“Now, 120 million people gather every Sunday, 180 million on Easter, to celebrate one name, and that is the name of Jesus Christ. And so to be at an institution that honors that — there is no other name under Heaven and Earth which man must be saved. To be at an institution that honors that and we can give them something to celebrate [is special], but at the same time, we are not that important. And our guys need to understand that. They are teenagers, early 20s, but by the same token, we are so thankful for the support and the people because we want to do this the right way.”

In the Golden Eagles’ first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008, they’re doing something right. On Friday they picked up their first NCAA Tournament win in 47 years, and on Sunday they joined Florida Gulf Coast as the only No. 15 seeds to ever reach the tournament’s round of 16.

After both Friday’s and Sunday’s wins, 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.

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.”

Next up for the ORU men’s basketball squad is third-seeded Arkansas on Saturday.

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