College basketball fans may be in for a treat.
Two of the hottest teams in the country are set for a showdown in the 2023 men’s basketball NCAA Tournament, as No. 12-seed Oral Roberts (30-4) will clash with No. 5-seed Duke (26-8) on Thursday evening in one of the most intriguing matchups of the first round.
The Blue Devils have won nine in a row, including three in three days to capture the ACC Tournament title. Not to be outdone, the Golden Eagles won the most games in school history, went undefeated in conference play and have come out victorious in their last 17 contests, the last three coming in the Summit League Tournament to guarantee their spot in the field of 68.
— ORU Basketball (@ORUMBB) March 8, 2023
After capturing the Summit League title last week with a 92-58 drubbing of North Dakota State, Oral Roberts’ sixth-year head coach Paul Mills had one thing on his mind as he opened his postgame press conference.
“God is good,” he said. “We are thankful. I’m thankful that I get to coach these guys, and they made shots tonight. I got an incredible group of guys.”
Neither Mills nor his Golden Eagles are strangers to March success, as college basketball fans remember well Oral Roberts’ incredible run to the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed two years ago. Mills led that team to a 75-72 OT win against No. 2-seed Ohio State in the first round, followed by an 81-78 victory over No. 7-seed Florida in the second. They fell just short of an Elite Eight berth in a 72-70 defeat to No. 3-seed Arkansas.
— ORU Basketball (@ORUMBB) March 8, 2023
Five players from that unforgettable team are still on this year’s roster, including senior leader and ORU’s leading scorer, Max Abmas (22.3 ppg). He was relied on heavily in 2021, and this season has been no different. Abmas, who has been known to post on social media about his faith in God, indicated on Instagram that he was placing his trust in God’s timing before his final season in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
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Abmas, Mills and others in the Golden Eagles program feel free to share about their faith openly at Oral Roberts, a private evangelical university founded in 1963 by the famous evangelist of the same name.
“As a globally recognized, Holy-Spirit-empowered university, we develop whole leaders for the whole world through a unique Whole Person education,” the school’s website says. “Students come to ORU not to ‘stay’ in their faith but to GROW in faith and to become the Spirit-empowered leaders they are called to be.”
In October 2021, Mills was a guest on the Sports Spectrum Podcast and he discussed his team’s memorable March Madness run, the lessons he’s learned along the way, and the platform he has to share about his faith in Christ.
“My job is to empty [my cup] and to make sure that I’m invested and I’ve poured into those guys and loved those guys, and those guys have no doubt,” Mills said. “Like, ‘Not only was he organized and passionate, but he loved us. That dude emptied his cup.’ … It’s my job to empty my cup. I just want to show up every day, love my guys, invest in my guys and empty my cup.”
Raised in Aldine, Texas, the son of a preacher, Mills learned from an early age that coaching combined his love for basketball and his love for serving others in Christ. It was the perfect fit for him. After 14 years as an assistant to Scott Drew at Baylor, Mills was handed the reigns at Oral Roberts.
“We always knew there was a sovereign God who presented opportunities, and it was our job (to speak the Gospel),” Mills said on the podcast. “Matthew tells us, ‘Let your light shine before men, so that they may praise your Father who is in Heaven.’ We just wanted to be light, and if ever we were given the opportunity, we wanted to make sure that glory was given in the right way and to the right Person.”
With the media attention that comes from an NCAA Tournament bid and a matchup against the powerhouse Blue Devils, Mills hopes for many more opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus. The first-round game is set to tip off at 7:10 p.m. ET on Thursday from the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. The winner will face either Tennessee or Louisiana on Saturday.
– SS PODCAST: Oral Roberts coach Paul Mills on Sweet 16 run, glorifying God
– ORU advances to Sweet 16: ‘We’re just happy to be a school that glorifies God’
– Evangelical Oral Robert University shocks Ohio St. in NCAA Tourney upset
– MAGAZINE: How God Drew It Up – 25th anniversary of Bryce Drew’s iconic shot
– Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe glorifies God as he’s named an All-American again