As I write this quick preview, we are under an hour from ORU continuing their run at history. The Golden Eagles are only the second 15-Second ever in the NCAA to make the Sweet 16. Florida Gulf Coast University a.k.a. “Dunk City” was the first. That team was electric and fun but were not as deep and skilled as Paul Mills’ Squad. Add-in FGCU did not have two legitimate All-Americans on their roster, so that makes this Golden Eagles Squad even more intriguing as they try to become the first 15-Seed to make it to the Elite 8. With that said, it will not be an easy task, and no one knows that more than ORU as they faced and lost a contested game against the Arkansas Razorbacks earlier this season. One advantage ORU will not have in this tournament game, is the possibility of sneaking up on Arkansas. The entire nation now knows who Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor, as well as Arkansas seeing firsthand what they can do.
FIRST TIME OUT – ARKANSAS 87 x ORU 76
Despite Arkansas grabbing a quick 6-0 lead to start the game and a lopsided rebounding advantage, the 1st Half of the Game was a success for the Golden Eagles. Not afraid of playing a SEC squad, ORU played with great energy, toughness, and grit to take a 10 lead to the locker room. The strong play continued out of the half for the first 4 minutes of the 2nd Half, but a colorful speech but the Hogs Head Coach, Eric Musselman, during the Under-16 Media Timeout seemed to light a fuse for his team. Arkansas came out of that timeout with a different attitude after that and took over the game. Separate runs of 10-0 and 10-1 game them the lead for good. They also took Max out of the game for much of the game with disrupted ORU’s offensive Rhythm. Obanor, however, did have a strong game posting a double-double (21pts & 10rebs) to earn Summit League Player of the week.
HOW DO THEY WIN THE REMATCH?
Rebounding: They do not have to win the rebounding battle, but they must close the gap compared to the last game. Arkansas dominated the glass to a tune of 58 to 32 which helped lead to a 22-6 advantage in second chance points. ORU has improved their defense immensely which has helped negate the fact that they often get out rebounded. Both Francis Lacis and Carlos Jurgens have become larger factors on the defensive end as well as the glass in the past month or so. Both will need to keep their improved play up to help KO keep the bigger Arkansas squad crashing the offensive glass.
Max Abmas: Obviously Max needs to have a big game for this Cinderella run to continue, but Arkansas was one of the few teams this season that caused Max difficulties. For most of the game 6’6” Defensive Specialist stayed glued on Max which forced the ball out of his hands. While he only turned the ball over twice, Abmas scored just 11 points on 4-11 shooting, including 1-6. The offense just never felt in synch without their leading scorer having his usual electric night on the offensive end. It will be imperative to keep him involved, whether it’s Carlos playing some point and Max off the ball or running their Pick & Roll action with Max & KO often and effectively.
Turnover Battle: All season we have talked about how ORU has yet to reach its full potential and that prior to the final weekend of the regular season, they could be so much better than what they are. Well, that changed with an increased emphasis on the defensive end. While they rarely ever press, the Golden Eagles have turned up the pressure in the half-court, forcing clutch turnovers leading to transition scores which is ORU’s most lethal attacking form. Moreover, the Eagles were second to only Kansas City in Turnover Margin during League Play at 2.20. They forced 16 and 20 turnovers versus Ohio State and Florida respectively last weekend while only committing only 6 and 12 TO’s themselves.
Shot Efficiency: While they have not shot the ball great this tournament, they also have not been reckless in shooting that would give an opponent an advantage on the boards and in transition. This will be even more important versus Arkansas if they hope to close the gap on the boards from the first game.
Supporting Cast: Another area that has contributed to this incredible run are the guys who play significant minutes, not named Max or Kevin. Whether is an additional offensive spark from Kareem Thompson, DJ Weaver, and even Sheldon Stevens or Defensive Gems from Carlos Jurgens and Francis Lacis it has transformed this squad into a more complete team. All the credit goes to Max and Kevin, but this run does not happen without the improvements and heroics of the previously mentioned players.
FINAL THOUGHTS & TIDBITS
Arkansas was and remains the best team that ORU has faced all season. They are big, fast, athletic, and well coached. They are loaded with talented highlighted by potential 2021 NBA draft picks like Moses Moody and Justin Smith. However, ORU has yet to show they are afraid of the big names and moments of this tournament. That poise and maturity will be crucial tonight. While Arkansas remains to be a Title threat to Gonzaga or Baylor, this ORU team is much different from the one that lost back in December to these massive Hogs.
As a Summit League Fan, I have been loving this run, but over the past couple weeks, I’ve been able to interact with some of the staff and players which has made it even easier to root for these guys. I will certainly be one of their loudest fans from my basement here in Minneapolis and hope they continue this run. ORU will score points, but if they can continue this newfound physicality and defensive intensity, it makes this matchup incredibly intriguing!!