Oral Roberts 71, Oakland, Mich. 67
TULSA, Okla. (AP)—Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton couldn’t help but have flashbacks when Oakland had a chance to steal another Mid-Continent Conference championship with a 3-pointer in the final minute.
When your team’s NCAA tournament hopes hang on a single game, it’s bad enough. A single shot makes it even worse.
“It was solid nerves until the clock struck zero,” Sutton said.
Instead, Ken Tutt’s banked-in jumper with 31.6 seconds left went down as the game-winner as Oral Roberts beat Oakland 71-67 on Tuesday night to win the Mid-Con title and automatic NCAA bid for the second straight year.
Erik Kangas, who hit six first-half 3-pointers to stake the No. 2 seed Golden Grizzlies (19-14) to an 11-point halftime lead, missed a 3 from the right wing that would’ve given Oakland the lead after Tutt’s jumper from just to the right of the paint.
“I thought Kangas’ shot was in,” Sutton said. “I was shocked that it didn’t go in, but fortunately it didn’t.”
Adam Liberty added two free throws to ice the game for Oral Roberts.
Three-time conference player of the year Caleb Green scored 28 points to become the Mid-Con’s career scoring leader, and Tutt had 20 points for the top-seeded Golden Eagles (23-10).
Two years ago, it was a seventh-seeded Oakland team that denied the top-seeded Golden Eagles a trip to the NCAAs on Pierre Dukes’ off-balance 3 with 1.3 seconds left in a 61-60 win. Oral Roberts bounced back to win the Mid-Con final against Chicago State last season and then had to avoid a similar fate against the Golden Grizzlies this time.
Green launched the ball into the rafters, and the Golden Eagles were surrounded by their fans on the court to celebrate the championship.
“That was a heck of a way to win one,” said Green, who now has the conference scoring record with 2,489 points—one more than Michael Watson had for UMKC from 2000-04. Green is the NCAA’s active scoring leader and already held the conference’s rebounding record.
Tutt’s 20 points gave him exactly 2,000 for his career, joining Green to form the seventh set of teammates to each score 2,000.
With the duo leading the way, Oral Roberts sealed its first ever back-to-back NCAA tournament berths. The school also went to the NCAAs in 1974 and 1984.
“To be able to take a team that hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament in (22) years and then go back-to-back for the first time … people will be talking about these guys 30 years from now,” Sutton said.
Vova Severovas led Oakland with 22 points, Kangas scored all 20 of his points in the first half and Shawn Hopes added 12.
Long the sidekick while Green set records and grabbed headlines, Tutt has made a habit of coming through when it counts the most. He scored 20 of his 25 points in the second half of last year’s Mid-Con title game to propel the Golden Eagles to the NCAAs for the first time in more than two decades.
This time, he got the hometown crowd back involved with a 3-pointer and a jumper to start the second half and spark a 17-5 run that helped Oral Roberts eliminate its halftime deficit. Shawn King helped fuel the surge with three blocks and a two-handed jam on a fast break created by Green’s steal, and Green’s layup with 13:48 left put the Golden Eagles back ahead 51-50.
Brandon Cassise and Severovas responded with back-to-back three-point plays to give Oakland a five-point edge, but Green ignited another Oral Roberts comeback with a two-handed jam.
Yemi Ogunoye’s right-handed dunk on a fast break put the Golden Eagles ahead 61-60, and Green followed that with consecutive layups to stretch the lead to five. Tutt’s driving layup finished a 14-3 push and made it 67-61.
Severovas converted a three-point play and then two more free throws, and Green missed two foul shots for Oral Roberts before Hopes tied it by hitting 1-of-2 foul shots with 58.7 seconds left.
But Tutt had an answer as he headed toward the basket to make something happen, and then pulled up.
“I knew it was going in the whole time. It was a great shot and I’m glad that it went in,” Tutt said.
Oakland coach Greg Kampe said he thought his team lacked offensive execution in shooting 22 percent after halftime, and the plan was to limit Tutt even if that meant Green scored 50.
“We had to stop Tutt and we didn’t do it. The shot he made to win the game, it mirrored his career,” Kampe said. “It’s probably a deserving shot for a kid that’s had the career that he’s had. He’s had to be in the background to Green, but he’s every bit as important and every bit as good as Caleb Green. He made the shot to put them in the tournament.”
Green scored 18 of Oral Roberts’ first 26 points and had the Golden Eagles up 26-24 after he hit a spinning, right-handed layup from the right block to cap a 14-6 run.
Kangas came right back with four straight 3-pointers to start a 21-8 run that pushed the Golden Grizzlies to a 45-34 halftime lead.