North Dakota Head Coach Paul Sather said it best in his postgame comments when he said “Great energy, they were everywhere” he also said it was like “a Ford vs Ferarri”. We have seen all season how tough this Oral Roberts team is to beat. In fact no one in the Summit League has done so this season. However, when they play with the energy they did in their quarterfinal match-up, it isn’t just Summit League opponents that should be concerned about matching up with them.
Against North Dakota it was the defensive intensity, as it has been all season, that shows this year’s Oral Roberts team is different than past versions. While the overall numbers didn’t look overly impressive, in the first half the Golden Eagles held North Dakota to 2-12 from the 3-point line. Every time it seemed the Fighting Hawks were going to get an open look the window was immediately closed. As Coach Sather said, it really did look like a team going at 9000 RPM’s.
There were times North Dakota would close the gap and then each time someone would step up for Oral Roberts. Whether it be Connor Vanover, Carlos Jurgens, Patrick Mwamba, or Kareem Thompson. A balanced effort and attack made it impossible for the Golden Eagles to be effectively defended on their way to 96 points.
For the Golden Eagles Vanover led the way with 21, followed by Jurgens with 19, and Thompson with 15. Note, none of the top 3 scorers were Summit League Player of the Year Max Abmas. Abmas did however have a team-leading 6 assists. BJ Omot led the Fighting Hawks with 15 points and was joined by 4 other players in double figures.
For North Dakota eyes now turn to the future. In his postgame comments, a clearly emotional Sather said “I would love to coach these guys again” and “college basketball is a different world right now”. One can only speculate on what Sather meant by those comments, whether it be concern over his own future in Grand Forks, or considering the losses North Dakota has taken in the transfer portal, losing more players this season. I think it’s safe to say Fighting Hawk fans will be hitting refresh with every tweet coming from verbal commits to see if they are losing someone. If Sather can keep the core together, it would be reasonable to think that the team can look more like the team we saw late in the season. As Oral Roberts Head Coach Paul Mills said “Paul Sather, phenomenal job, changed their style of play and won 6 of their last 8”, with that, all eyes turn to the portal to see if most of the roster can return to carry on that momentum.