Even in an NCAA Tournament riddled with upsets, Oral Roberts’ run through the first two rounds stands out.
With their 81-78 second-round victory over the seventh-seeded Florida Gators that followed their win over second-seeded Ohio State, the Eagles became only the second No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16.
Oral Roberts (18-10) remains confident — and defiant — as it heads into its next matchup against third-seeded Arkansas (24-6) on Saturday night in a South Region semifinal in Indianapolis.
“As I told the guys, we’re not going to let somebody put a number in front of our name and tell us that that’s our worth, or that’s our value,” Oral Roberts coach Paul Mills said. “We’re not capitulating to anybody here.”
The Eagles have a chance to become the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Elite Eight, and must beat a familiar foe to do so. The Razorbacks, who edged sixth-seeded Texas Tech 68-66 in the second round, defeated Oral Roberts 87-76 at home in Fayetteville on Dec. 20.
Forward Kevin Obanor had 21 points and 10 rebounds in that game and was one of five Eagles who scored in double figures.
But Oral Roberts couldn’t contain Arkansas forward Justin Smith, who totaled 22 points and 17 rebounds.
Guard Desi Sills had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Moses Moody finished with 18 points and seven rebounds as the Razorbacks used their size to crush the Eagles on the glass 58-32.
“Oral Roberts is really well coached,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “They have two star players. It doesn’t really affect anything that we beat those teams. That goes out the window in an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.”
Obanor totaled 28 points and 11 rebounds in Sunday’s win over Florida while Oral Roberts’ leading scorer Max Abmas had 26 points and seven assists and shot a perfect 12-for-12 from the free-throw line.
“We don’t come to a game thinking we are going to lose and just be content and satisfied,” Obanor said. “Of course, we want to win. But at the end of the day, if we just play hard, play gritty, play grimy, we can live with the results and whatever happens, happens.”
Jaylin Williams, a 6-foot-10 forward, started in Arkansas’ win over Texas Tech, marking the first time he was in the starting lineup with Moody and Davis this season. Williams scored only one point, but collected 10 rebounds as he started in place of 7-3 center Connor Vanover, as Musselman went with a smaller, quicker lineup. Smith led Arkansas with 20 points while Moody and Davis each had 15 points.
The Razorbacks are making their first appearance in the Sweet 16 since 1996. Arkansas won its lone national title in 1994 and finished as the runner-up in 1995.
“Obviously, we have players from the state, so I think it means a lot to them and to their parents, to their friends in the state,” Musselman said. “Arkansas is a proud state. There’s a lot of schools that are one-sport schools, and at Arkansas it’s all our sports. Baseball, everybody throughout the state loves it, football, women’s basketball, men’s basketball. I’ve never been in a place where the whole state loves all the teams.”
–Field Level Media