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Oral Roberts surprises Ohio State in the NCAA tournament’s first major upset.



Oral Roberts surprises Ohio State in the NCAA tournament's first major upset.
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Oral Roberts surprises Ohio State in the NCAA tournament's first major upset.

Oral Roberts surprises Ohio State in the NCAA tournament’s first major upset.


In the moments leading up to the game against Oral Roberts, Ohio State’s players were calm and swaggering.

The Buckeyes are no longer dancing. On Friday, the 15th-seeded Golden Eagles defeated second-seeded Ohio State 75-72 in overtime to pull off the first major upset of the first NCAA Tournament in two years.

Kevin Obanor, who led Oral Roberts with 30 points and 11 rebounds, said, “When they ranked them, it was just a number at the end of the day.” “We put our shoes on at the same time as the other squad. We just went into it thinking, ‘Show us why you deserve to be No. 2,’ and we came out with a lot of trust.”

Oral Roberts used poised, flawless performances from its two stars, Obanor and guard Max Abmas, to become the first 15 seed to win a first-round game since Middle Tennessee stunned Michigan State in 2016. The tournament was canceled last year due to the pandemic.

In overtime, Obanor scored seven of Oral Roberts’ 11 points, including two free throws with 13 seconds remaining. Abmas, the nation’s top scorer, finished with 29 points.

“Give them, their coaches, their teams, their program, and their university a lot of credit for this win,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “We had no illusions that this was going to be something other than a very difficult game, and it was clear from the start that it would be.”

In the final seconds of overtime, Ohio State had a chance to tie it, but Duane Washington Jr.’s open 3-pointer from the right side of the rim bounced off the side of the rim, and Oral Roberts celebrated its first tournament victory since 1974.

The Golden Eagles have a roster full of undrafted players who attended a small, private Christian school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Following their victory over the Big Ten force, the Summit League champions bowed their heads in a prayer circle.

“I’ve always felt like the underdog growing up,” Obanor said. “This is not a large school. To simply prove people wrong, it’s a blessing to have people who are truly dedicated and believe that we are the superior team.”

On Sunday, the Golden Eagles (17-10) will face Florida, the seventh-seeded team in the South Region.

E.J. Liddell led the Buckeyes with 23 points and 14 rebounds (21-10). Washington finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, but only 7 of 21 shots were taken.

Oral Roberts scored the game’s first seven points, including a 3-pointer from the logo by Abmas, which elicited a collective “Ooooh!” from the socially isolated audience.

Before the Golden Eagles rallied, the Buckeyes were up by eight points. With about five minutes left in the first half, Abmas hit a 3-pointer to give Oral Roberts a 26-25 lead, sparking a chant of “O-R-U!” He hit another three seconds later to force a timeout from Ohio State. He made 5 of 7 3-pointers in the first half to lead the Golden Eagles to a 36-33 halftime lead.

In the second half, the Summit League champions led by seven points before Ohio State rallied to take a 60-58 lead on a CJ Walker pullup jumper with just under five minutes remaining.

With 14 seconds remaining, Obanor was fouled and made both free throws to tie the game at 64. In the extra session, Washington missed a step-back jumper in the final seconds, and the Buckeys had no response for Obanor.

“This is clearly a bittersweet end to a fantastic season,” Holtmann said. “We’ll own it and embrace it, and then we’ll move on.”


Oral Roberts came into the game with a chance to break the Division I single-season free-throw shooting percentage record. Harvard set the Division I record of 82.18 percent in 1984. Oral Roberts started the game with an 82.35 percent shooting percentage, but only made 14 of 18 shots in the game, dropping to 82.17 percent.


During the playing of the national anthem, five Ohio State players knelt, one of many such displays throughout the tournament.


Oral Roberts outrebounded Ohio State 49-32, but the Golden Eagles countered with six turnovers to the Buckeyes’ 16.


“I mean, the reality is you have to turn around and play another one, so the celebration better be pretty quick,” Oral Roberts coach Paul Mills says of his team’s preparation for Florida. You’re not going to have a successful marriage if you spend all of your time looking back at your wedding day videos.”

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