Photo via Ian Maule
Summarizing the Summit League for nearly the past decade would be pretty bland.
Well, bland for any team or fanbase aside from the North Dakota State Bison or South Dakota State Jackrabbits. Since the 2011-12 season, the Bison and Jackrabbits have traded off Summit League Men’s Basketball Tournament titles (North Dakota State won four tournaments over the span while South Dakota State won five).
For the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles, it was all about breaking the recent monopolistic tournament success the Bison and Jackrabbits were more than known for. Then again, it was also about finding success of their own, too – the Golden Eagles had not been in a conference title game since the 2010-11 season, where they lost 90-76 to the Oakland Golden Grizzlies (a lot of teams love the gold, apparently). The last time Oral Roberts even won the tourney and locked in a coveted postseason berth to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was March 11, 2008 when they defeated the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Jaguars, 71-64.
In other words, it has been a few years.
Fast-forward to the present day, and Oral Roberts has made noise. After a buzzer-beating layup tipped in by Kevin Obanor, the Golden Eagles defeated the Jackrabbits, 90-88 on Mar. 8 to move onto the conference final. In the bout, the Golden Eagles would face off against the second well-known tournament power.
Within the first half of the Mar. 9 tournament final, it was all Oral Roberts. Making seven dimes on 18 downtown attempts for a 38.9 three-point percentage (3P%) certainly helped. Making 17 total shots (out of 33 attempts) for a 51.5 overall field goal percentage (FG%) definitely made matters pretty easy for the Golden Eagles, too, even when you did not take their fast level of play into account. In fact, what Oral Roberts did in the first half against North Dakota State was a pretty common practice for the majority of their 2020-21 games leading up to the tournament.
Oh, but the game of men’s college basketball has two halves, doesn’t it?
If Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were symbolic representations of each half of Golden Eagle basketball during the game, well, you could guess which one the second half was for them. After a phenomenal half of shooting and pace, North Dakota State was able to slow down the game to their liking, and in turn, diminished the 25-point lead after Bison senior forward Rocky Kreuser made a layup with 39 seconds to go to tie the game up 72-all. To make matters worse, Obanor, the Golden Eagles’ second-best scorer and top rebounder, fouled out on the play leading up to the score.
Then came Max Abmas.
Despite missing a free-throw with 15 seconds to go in regulation, the sophomore point guard for the Golden Eagles made his second at the line to put Oral Roberts back up by one. A Francis Lacis block with four seconds to go forced North Dakota State to foul once more, but this time, instead of fouling free-throw extraordinaire Abmas, they forced senior guard D’Mauria Jones to the line. Jones, despite possessing a free-throw percentage of less than 50% at the time he went to the line, knocked down both shots to put Oral Roberts ahead, 75-72. Add in a Lacis steal just for good measure, and Oral Roberts not only put the two-team “Dakota State” tandem to bed in back-to-back games, but punched a ticket to the Big Dance, too.
Regardless of where Oral Roberts is seeded come time for Madness, they could potentially cause some trouble at the minimum. While KenPom is not as high as one would think about the offense Oral Roberts has at its disposal (their 109.3 adjusted offensive efficiency is tied for 72nd out of 357 teams in Division I), the numbers simply speak for themselves.
In terms of points per game averages, Oral Roberts is tied for 11th (81.8) and is ahead of the likes of other potential mid-major darlings, including Belmont (81.3), Winthrop (79.5) and Drake (77.4). While they might not be explosive in terms of the volume of shots they make, the ones they do make are good, and good from a distance – the team’s .390 three-point percentage (3P%) ranks ninth among all teams in Division I. Remember those clutch free throws Oral Roberts made late in the game? Well, it was not a fluke. Aside from the Colorado Buffaloes (83.4%), no team makes their free throws at a better clip than the Golden Eagles (82.4%). The overall scoring capabilities of the team starts with Abmas, whose 24.2 points per game led the team and the nation. And to think – the Biomedical Chemistry major is not too far off from being a 50-40-90 player (he currently possesses a 48.4 FG%, 43.3 3P% and 89.9 FT%).
No matter the feats Oral Roberts has been able to overcome or defeat, they can potentially surprise, whether from their clutch playmaking or from their raw scoring.
This is not bland in the slightest.