Justin Smith #0 of the Arkansas Razorbacks drives to the basket. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images/AFP
In a tournament filled with even more upsets than usual, Oral Roberts’ Cinderella story makes it to the second weekend, where it will face a red hot Arkansas team. This year’s March has been even madder than usual, with more upsets than in a standard NCAA Tournament. The poster child for all these aspiring Cinderellas is Oral Roberts, who shocked No. 2 seed Ohio State in overtime in its first NCAA game. The Golden Eagles then knocked off Florida by three points in the second round to make it to the tournament’s second weekend as a No. 15 seed.
Oral Roberts Golden Eagles vs. Arkansas Razorbacks
Saturday, March 27, 2021 – 07:25 PM EDT at Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Oral Roberts has now won seven straight games to go from 11-10 in late February to one of March’s biggest stories. They are just the second No. 15 seed ever to make it to the Sweet 16.
Now the Golden Eagles face one of the hottest teams in the tournament in Arkansas. The No. 3 seed Razorbacks have won 11 of 12. They had an early scare from Colgate in the first round, then broke the game open with a pair of epic runs. A rare underdog as a No. 3 seed in the second round, Arkansas gutted out a two-point win over Texas Tech.
Oral Roberts’ story appeared to be coming to an end against Florida. The Golden Eagles trailed by as many as 11 before storming back in the second half. Forward Kevin Obanor scored 28 with 11 rebounds, following up his 30 and 11 performance in the Ohio State game. Guard Max Abmas, the team’s leading scorer, had 26, following up his 29-point night in the opener.
Oral Roberts hit 16-of-27 from two, showing good shot selection inside, while also taking 30 threes and hitting enough (10) to justify the commitment to the perimeter. It was the second straight game where ORU shot as many threes as twos.
Just as important to the Golden Eagles’ success is the ORU defense. Oral Roberts forced 20 Florida turnovers, its second straight game with forcing a 20 percent or higher turnover rate. The Golden Eagles also throttled Ohio State on the perimeter, forcing the Buckeyes into 5-of-23 shooting from three.
Oral Roberts likes to play fast. The Golden Eagles have the No. 51 tempo in the nation. They’ll need to find another gear against Arkansas, though. The Razorbacks play at the No. 17 tempo. Despite playing so fast, Arkansas’ defense keeps things low-scoring. The Razorbacks have gone under in four straight games in the SEC and NCAA Tournaments after doing it just 10 times in the regular season.
Arkansas is No. 11 in defensive efficiency, holds teams to 45.9 percent from two-point range. The Razorbacks are No. 23 in the country in blocked shot rate and No. 81 in turnovers forced rate. The Razorback defense helped spur the feeding frenzy that broke open the Colgate game. Arkansas went 19-0 in a run that spanned over halftime, then broke open a close game with another plus-17 run to close out the game.
Texas Tech put a scare into Arkansas by slowing things down. Arkansas was able to get off a second-half run to go up 13, then held on as the Red Raiders rallied down the stretch. That’s not how Oral Roberts plays, and attempting to run with Arkansas could be a recipe for disaster, as Colgate showed in the first game of the tournament.
Arkansas also has an advantage on the boards. The Razorbacks are No. 66 in the nation in offensive rebounding rate. Oral Roberts, meanwhile, pulled off its two upsets while getting outrebounded by Ohio State and Florida, 68-50.
Unlike the other upset victims, Arkansas is familiar with Oral Roberts. The two teams played in late December. The Golden Eagles had a 10-point lead at the half, then Arkansas went on a second-half tear to win by 11. Sure enough, the Razorbacks rebounded 49 percent of their own misses and 83 percent of Oral Roberts’.
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