If the shot seen ’round YouTube propelled the Oral Roberts basketball team into the national spotlight, a 64-42 blowout of then-No. 8 Xavier on Sunday showed that the Golden Eagles might just belong on the stage.
Riding a wave of momentum created first by a one-handed, half-court, buzzer-beating, game-winning miracle shot by Damen Bell-Holter on Dec. 12 to beat Arkansas-Little Rock, and strengthened by the win over the Musketeers (albeit a team depleted by suspensions), ORU hosts Texas Tech at 7 p.m. today inside a sure-to-be-rocking Mabee Center in Tulsa, Okla.
Suffice it to say, the environment will be a hostile one for a young Red Raiders (5-4) team playing just its third true road game of the season.
“This is a great opportunity for our program,” ORU coach Scott Sutton said. “This is only the fourth time in my 12-plus years of being the head coach here that we’ve had a Big 12 team come, so our fans are excited and our team is excited.”
ORU (8-4) expects that excitement to spill into the stands. A school official announced on Twitter that by Wednesday afternoon, the lower bowl of the team’s arena had been sold out. By game time, Tech could be staring at a full house.
“It’s going to be the biggest challenge we’ve faced so far,” Tech forward Robert Lewandowski said.
Tech coach Billy Gillispie is familiar with the enviroment. He served as an assistant under Bill Self at crosstown rival Tulsa from 1997 to 2000 — Sutton was an assistant at ORU at the time — and it didn’t take him long to understand how passionate the city’s fans were. Gillispie helped Self lead Tulsa to the Elite Eight during the 2000-01 season, when one of just five Tulsa losses came against ORU, a one-point defeat in a “crazy” atmosphere inside the Mabee Center.
“The people (in Tulsa) are great fans and they are crazy about basketball,” Gillispie said. “And the thing that makes it special is the city has two great programs.”
Tech (7-0 all-time vs. ORU) is coming off a 87-59 drubbing of Grambling State on Sunday, a win that came at the end of a 12-day layoff. Today’s game represents not only a chance for the Red Raiders to snag their first signature win of the season, but is also one of just three remaining tuneups before Tech travels to Oklahoma State on Jan. 4 to open Big 12 Conference play.
Gillispie has provided honest assessments of his squad throughtout the first six weeks of the season, reiterating on Wednesday that the Red Raiders “aren’t where we need to be by any stretch of the imagination” with conference play looming.
One area Tech is trying to close the gap is on the boards. Asked after the Grambling State win where the team needed to improve most against ORU, Lewandowski didn’t hesitate.
“We’ve got to rebound better, honestly,” he said. “We got out-rebounded (42-40 against Grambling State), which is, for lack of a better word, pitiful on my part and the other big guys’ parts, so we’re going to have to work on that. Oral Roberts is a physical team that really gets after the boards.”
Gillispie said outside of Jordan Tolbert — who leads all Big 12 freshmen in scoring (14 points per game) and is second in rebounding (6.2) — the team hasn’t rebounded consistently enough this season, evidenced by the team’s Big 12-worst 33.7 boards-per-game average.
“We’ve got to get better in every area,” Gillispie said, “and I’m encouraged that we will.”
Oral Roberts is second in the Summit League in rebounding defense, limiting opponents to about 30 per game.
“We do have some experience down low,” Sutton said, “and I’ve always felt good about our chances of matching our inside guys with our opponents.”
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