Oral Roberts’ Win Over Tulsa: Foreshadowing For a Big Season?Posted by Eli Linton on November 11th, 2013
Eli Linton is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Oral Roberts vs. Tulsa game on Sunday.
A bigger upset than you might think happened in a relatively obscure part of the mid-major world on Sunday when Oral Roberts celebrated a 74-68 non-conference road victory on the floor of their cross-town rival, Tulsa. Oral Roberts was able to overcome an abysmal shooting night (38 percent from the field) and the loss of Shawn Glover, their lone senior (fouled out with four minutes left in the game), and they did it by outrebounding the Golden Hurricane by 17 rebounds despite not having a starter over 6′ 7″. Tulsa also did its part by missing 19 free throws and going a horrific 1-of-9 from three-point territory.
It was a sloppy game by both teams — what you might expect for a season opener — but there were also some important takeaways from this game. Both programs found themselves in a similar place before their 49th meeting: They are coached by men who come from Bill Self’s growing coaching tree, and can’t help but bring great expectations with that experience. Both schools have tasted some historical NCAA Tournament success and are looking to end long droughts, and both programs find themselves under a lot of pressure to produce for fan bases that measure success through conference championships and NCAA berths. The two schools are even more connected by the fact that they are mid-major schools from the same city, usually lost in the preseason discussion of potential “Cinderella” teams that are doing their best to keep that dream alive and stay relevant in the never-ending realignment of the power conferences. Each will need to win its conference championship to have any hope of earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Thus is the plight of schools like Oral Roberts and Tulsa in mid-level conferences without name recognition and a regular dose of “quality” wins. In reality a win in a non-conference match-up like this means only a little in the grand scheme of things, but you wouldn’t know that after listening to the players talk after the victory. In fact you couldn’t help but think, while watching the Golden Eagles celebrate, that this win meant just a little bit more to them. “Honestly, being 1-0 has never felt so good in my life,” said sophomore guard D.J. Jackson. “A lot of people look down on us because we go to ORU. We are the school on the other side [of town]. We are the school from the south side, the small school. To win a game like this, this is for everybody. I love my coach and to get that smile and a hug after the game [there is] nothing like it.”
And the more you think about it, this win could have more maining to the big picture than meets the eye. Despite playing every year, the last time the Golden Eagles defeated Tulsa was in 2007, which was also the last time Oral Roberts made it to the Big Dance. The last time they defeated Tulsa on the road was almost a decade ago in 2004, which also happened to be the same year they had two All-Americans in Ken Tutt and Caleb Green. So it’s not a stretch to say that a win against Tulsa could actually foreshadow big things to come. “It’s been a long time,” said a water-cooler soaked Scott Sutton after being asked when was the last time he had seen his team this excited after a win. “It’s a big game and they kind of had our number the last several years. We’ve taken some really good teams down here and haven’t won. I don’t think a lot of people knew how talented we were but our guys understood. I think this group understands the importance of this game better than any team then we’ve had. We had a lot of Oklahoma kids on this team and they understand what this game means.”
If the Golden Eagles can follow this blueprint for victory that they have drawn up for themselves — by playing scrappy defense, using their athleticism to their advantage and outhustling teams to rebounds despite size disadvantages — then they can surely win the watered-down Southland Conference. They have the leadership, the right mentality, and the right coach. It’s too early in the season to say what they can accomplish from this point forward, but if they make a run they will certainly look back at this Tulsa win and know where the fire got started.