Oral Roberts hoping to move past upset, focus on Florida

Charles Odum
The Associated Press
Oral Roberts head coach Paul Mills looks on during the second half Friday of the first-round game against Ohio State in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind. Oral Roberts won in overtime.

Oral Roberts coach Paul Mills hopes his players can quickly move past the biggest win in school history.

The challenge of focusing on another game without taking time to savor a shocking first-round NCAA Tournament upset of second-seeded Ohio State may be asking a lot.

Mills' message to the 15th-seeded Golden Eagles: The first-round win was great. A Sweet 16 appearance would be even better.

Oral Roberts upended the South Region with its 75-72 overtime win over Ohio State on Friday, earning a second-round game at 7:45 p.m. Sunday against No. 7 Florida (15-9) on truTV.

The Gators also were stretched to overtime in their 75-70 win over No. 10 Virginia Tech. A tight Florida-Virginia Tech game was no surprise. Few expected to see a close battle between Oral Roberts and Ohio State, much less the Golden Eagles becoming the ninth 15 seed to win a tournament game.

The last win by a 15 seed came in 2016, when Middle Tennessee State beat Michigan State. The only 16 seed to win was Maryland-Baltimore County when it beat top-seeded Virginia in 2018.

Oral Roberts (17-10) won its first NCAA Tournament game since 1974 against Louisville.

“I thought we would win,” Mills said. “I mean, our guys thought we would win. The reality is you have to turn around and we’re about to play another one so the celebration better be pretty quick.”

Mills said he'll try to help his players move past the momentous victory.

“They want to win so you do have to avoid the distractions,” Mills said. "You do have to avoid some of this hype that comes with it. I’m just going to encourage them, don’t return text messages or look at whatever social media until Monday. Just wait.

“That stuff doesn’t need to be tended to right now unless it’s your mom or your dad or your girlfriend. You probably need to answer that one. But for the most part you have to eliminate distractions in order to be good at this time of year.”

Mills, who has coached in four Elite Eight and two other Sweet 16 games as an assistant at Missouri, said another NCAA win would be even sweeter.

“You want your players to have this experience and enjoy it, but the reality is I can tell you I’ve been to four Sweet 16s and that’s a better feel,” Mills said. “So your attention turns pretty quickly.”

Oral Roberts' winning formula against Florida may be to again rely on its two leaders. Kevin Obanor and Max Abmas had 30 and 29 points, respectively, against the Buckeyes.

“At the end of the day when they ranked us, it’s just a number,” Obanor said. “We had the mindset of show us you deserve to be No. 2.”

Florida played without forward Omar Payne, who was benched. The Gators then lost starting guard Tyree Appleby midway through the second half with a cut on his forehead.

Colin Castleton have the grit needed to keep winning.

“Just we weren’t losing the game,” Castleton said. “That’s what it comes down to. You’ve got to have the mindset we’re not losing this game. We don’t want to go back to Florida yet.”