Dear Cinderella, we've missed you.
After a two-year hiatus due to the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Tournament, No. 15 seed Oral Roberts became the first March Madness Cinderella this year by knocking off No. 2 Ohio State on Friday. The Golden Eagles (17-10) became the giant-killing darling of the first round similar to previous No. 15 seed bracket-busters of recent memory: Middle Tennessee (2016) and Florida Gulf Coast (2013).
It's Oral Roberts' first win in the NCAA men's basketball tournament since 1974 and the mid-major from Tulsa, Oklahoma, made up of 4,000 students becomes just the ninth No. 15 seed to send a No. 2 seed home.
How far can Oral Roberts go? Could they become this year's version of 2018 Loyola-Chicago or 2011 Virginia Commonwealth ? On the heels of upsetting the Buckeyes, here's a look at what makes the Golden Eagles special and sets them apart to stage an even deeper March run – into the second weekend and perhaps further.
Oral Roberts has the nation's best scorer
Max Abmas entered Friday's game leading the nation in scoring with 24.2 points a game, while ranking fifth in made three-point field goals. The 6-1 sophomore guard delivered an explosive performance in upsetting the Buckeyes, scoring 18 of his 29 points in the first half and finishing 5-for-10 from three-point range.
If Oral Roberts is going to advance to the NCAA Tournament's second weekend and upend No. 7 seed Florida, it will take another breakout offensive display from Abmas – who pronounces his name ACE-miss, go figure. He played 45 minutes in the win and said on CBS that back-to-back Summit League games all season "prepared us for this moment right here." It can also be the re
Abmas has shades of Stephen Curry (Davidson, 2008) or CJ McCollum (Lehigh, 2012) star power with his ability to shoot from deep. He scored 41 points in a Feb. 27 win over Western Illinois and 42 points in a Feb. 13 win over South Dakota State.
MARCH MADNESS: Winners and losers from the men's first round
One-two counter punch
Abmas is far from alone as the hero of Friday's thrilling upset. Big man Kevin Obanor (30 points, 11 rebounds) went head-to-head with Ohio State star E.J. Liddell and made key plays down the stretch – game-tying free-throws to force overtime then game-sealing free-throws to claim the upset.
Obanor (18.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg on the season) is the backbone of this team and complements Abmas well in the frontcourt. What the two bring together is a willpower factor. Neither player was going to let their team lose against OSU and when the Buckeyes were punching hard to take control of the game in the final two minutes, Oral Roberts had a counter-punch that carried over into overtime. Both Abmas and Obanor drive that effort, which if replicated, can help propel more upsets.
"I know growing up, all my life, I was always like the underdog," Obanor said after the OSU win. "The school is not a big school. Just to prove people wrong, it's a blessing just to have people that are really committed and believe that we're the better team."
Oral Roberts can shoot lights out
Every team that goes deep in the NCAA tournament can shoot at a high rate. Coach Paul Mills has a team that shoots as good as any team in this tournament, with the Golden Eagles leading the nation in made three-point field goals per game (11.3) and free-throw percentage (82.4%). Both stats played out in Oral Roberts' win over Ohio State, where Abmas drained five three-pointers and Obanor was making clutch free throws.
The team ranks 12th nationally with 81.8 points per game, which helps offset one of the worst defenses in the entire tournament (ranking 285th nationally in defensive efficiency, per KenPom). The Golden Eagles have been able to get a collective effort in Summit League play, and they'll need more offensive production from role players – Kareem Thompson, DeShang Weaver and Carlos Jurgens – in their next matchup vs. Florida on Sunday. RJ Glasper, the team's third leading scorer, has been out since February with an injury so others are used to stepping up.
Contributing: Indianapolis Star, The Oklahoman.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Oral Roberts: Ohio State NCAA tournament slayer a dangerous Cinderella