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Oral Roberts stuns Ohio State, pulls NCAA tournament's first major upset

Jeff Eisenberg
·3-min read

Not even 90 seconds into his team’s matchup against Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State, college basketball’s leading scorer demonstrated he wasn’t intimidated by the NCAA tournament stage.

Max Abmas came around a screen 30 feet from the rim, brazenly pulled up and sank a 3-pointer with both feet inside the mid-court logo.

That shot was emblematic of everything that followed in Oral Roberts’ stunning 75-72 overtime upset of the second-seeded Buckeyes. Not once did the 15th-seeded Golden Eagles appear timid or overwhelmed. Not once did they shrink from the moment.

Behind Abmas’ impossibly deep range and creativity off the dribble and co-star Kevin Obanor’s versatile scoring, Oral Roberts outplayed second-seeded Ohio State for the entirety of Friday’s round of 64 NCAA tournament matchup. Obanor tallied 30 points and Abmas had 29 as the Golden Eagles built a six-point overtime lead and then held on through a white-knuckle finish.

Justin Ahrens and Duane Washington Jr. both missed potential game-tying 3-pointers on Ohio State’s final possession of overtime. Washington’s look was wide open yet bounced harmlessly off the rim, leaving him to cover his face in his hands as Oral Roberts players mobbed one another in jubilation in the background.

"I thought we would win," Oral Roberts coach Paul Mills said. "Our guys thought we would win."

Kevin Obanor #0 and Max Abmas #3 of Oral Roberts react after defeating Ohio State in the NCAA men's tournament on March 19. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Kevin Obanor #0 and Max Abmas #3 of Oral Roberts react after defeating Ohio State in the NCAA men's tournament on March 19. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Oral Roberts is the first No. 15 seed to win an NCAA tournament game since Middle Tennessee waylaid pre-tournament favorite Michigan State in 2016. Entering this year’s NCAA tournament, No. 15 seeds had an all-time record of 8-132 against No. 2s.

While Oral Roberts (17-10) was a 15.5-point underdog against Ohio State, the Golden Eagles’ victory wasn’t quite as unfathomable as some previous 15-over-2 stunners. This is a team that has two pro prospects in its starting five, that lost by just five at Oklahoma State and Wichita State in early December and that led Arkansas at halftime a couple weeks later.

Ohio State has been a fixture in the top 10 for much of the season, but the Buckeyes don’t have the waves of long, athletic NBA talent that other elite teams do. They’ve often been vulnerable defensively this season — and that was before losing versatile forward Kyle Young to a concussion.

It was no surprise how Oral Roberts coach Paul Mills attacked Ohio State. Mills used high ball screens to get Abmas a favorable matchup and then unleashed the 24-point-per-game scorer off the dribble.

Abmas had 18 first-half points, all but three of which came on 3-pointers. Ohio State sent more defenders at the lightning-quick 6-foot-1 guard in the second half, but Obanor stepped up to carry Oral Roberts.

Even with Abmas and Obanor erupting, Ohio State still had opportunities to win in regulation. EJ Liddell could have given Ohio State a two-possession lead with 37 seconds to go, but he missed the front end of a 1-and-1 at the free-throw line. Obanor then drew a foul at the other end and sank two free throws to tie the game at 64.

Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann put the ball in the hands of Washington with the chance to win. Washington created space for himself with a pretty step-back move but his jump shot came up short.

Oral Roberts advances to the second round of the NCAA tournament, where seventh-seeded Florida awaits. On Sunday, the Golden Eagles will try to make more history. Only 2013 Florida Gulf Coast has reached the tournament’s second weekend as a No. 15 seed.

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