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Why Oral Roberts run to the Sweet 16 was a great March Madness cinderella story

Led by the nation’s leading scorer, Max Abmas, Oral Roberts pulled off a pair of upsets to advance to the 2021 Sweet 16.

Oral Roberts Golden Eagles forward Kevin Obanor (0) and guard Carlos Jurgens (11) and guard Max Abmas (3) and forward Francis Lacis (22) celebrate after an overtime victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Mackey Arena.
Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Oral Roberts came just inches away from reaching the program’s first Elite Eight in 2021. In their Sweet 16 matchup, the 15th-seeded Golden Eagles fell to No. 3 seed Arkansas 72-70 when leading scorer Max Abmas’ 3-pointer clanked off the front of the rim.

ORU upset No. 2 Ohio State in the first round 75-72 in overtime. It became the ninth 15-seed to knock off a two-seed. In the second round, the Golden Eagles defeated No. 7 Florida 81-78 to become the second No.15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16 joining Florida Gulf Coast in 2013.

Abmas, the Summit League Player of the Year, netted at least 25 points in each of the Golden Eagles’ three NCAA Tournament games. He was the first player to accomplish that feat for a double-digit seed since Stephen Curry in 2008 and the fourth player since 1985.

On top of that, Abmas was incredibly durable and reliable during ORU’s postseason run. Over the six games between the Summit League Championship and NCAA Tournament, he played every single minute (245).

Oral Roberts reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1974.

This Cinderella story almost did not happen. In the conference championship game against North Dakota State, Admas broke a tie at 72 with a free throw with 15 seconds remaining. Francis Lacis had a block at the rim to preserve the Golden Eagles’ one-point lead with two seconds left. ORU ultimately won 75-72.

In the semifinals a day earlier, Kevin Obanor lifted Oral Roberts to a 90-88 win over South Dakota State with a buzzer beater.

The Golden Eagles finished fourth in the Summit League during the regular season at 10-5. They entered the postseason with a 13-10 record before they won five of six to complete the year at 18-11.

Abmas, a Third Team All-American, led the nation in scoring at 24.5 points per game. He also dished out 3.8 assists and 3.2 rebounds in 37 minutes per game. He knocked down 47% of his shots and 43% from beyond the 3-point arc.

Obanor was second on the team in scoring with 18.7 points per game. The forward from Houston pulled down 9.6 rebounds, shot 50% from the floor and stepped outside to hit 46% from 3-point land.

Kareem Thompson, Francis Lacis and Carlos Jürgens rounded out the starting five.

Paul Mills was in his fourth season as the head coach of the Golden Eagles. Prior to taking over at ORU, Mills spent 14 years as an assistant at Baylor.

Where are they now?

Abmas remains on the Oral Roberts roster and just completed his third season. He averaged 22.8 points per game this season and scored in double figures in all but one game. He received All-Summit League First Team honors once again.

Obanor transferred to Texas Tech for his senior year. He averaged 9.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per contest for the Red Raiders. He posted season highs with a 23-point, 13-rebound double-double in their 83-73 win over defending champion Baylor on Feb. 16.

The Golden Eagles finished third this season and fell to North Dakota State in the semifinals.