Maximizing his minutes is exactly what Chris Miller did in Oral Roberts’ 90-80 win over South Dakota on Wednesday. The freshman from Booker T. Washington logged nine minutes, and he scored eight points and grabbed three rebounds during that time.
It’s a small sample size, but Miller is gaining a comfort on the court for the Golden Eagles. ORU coach Scott Sutton mentioned how Miller has slimmed down, and going against Albert Owens in practice has surely helped.
Now here’s my hope: That we see Owens, Miller and Emmanuel Nzekwesi on the floor all at once. The Summit League is built upon guards heaving up 3-point shots, but having three guys — who all tower about 6 feet, 7 inches — on the court would tip the scales of normalcy in the conference. I’m not talking about anything for long lengths of time, but it was be fun to see the Golden Eagles try and out-size their opponent.
Sutton did admit that playing Owens and Miller has crossed his mind.
“It certainly crossed my mind with Emmanuel and Darian (Harris) picked up some fouls and got into foul trouble in the first half,” Sutton said. But, no such luck in the end.
Now on to the grades…
– First half: C- — Dezmond McDaniel didn’t play much against South Dakota, but he came off the bench and drained a 3-pointer with 8:23 left in the opening half. That shot put ORU in front 30-20, and the Golden Eagles seemed to be in control in the opening half.
Then the pendulum swung — and it swung hard.
South Dakota scored 21 of the half’s final 29 points, and six of ORU’s eight points came from Albert Owens, who didn’t let South Dakota run away with a big lead.
– Final 15 minutes: A- — As bad as the final 8-plus minutes were to end the first half for ORU, the final 15 minutes of the game were the complete opposite. I thought, for sure, the game would come down to a final possession or two since that’s how South Dakota has performed to this point, but the Golden Eagles made sure that didn’t happen. ORU went on a 27-8 run and flipped the game in its favor.
“In the second half, we finally played, in my opinion, with the type of intensity we have to play with,” Sutton said. “We weren’t great defensively in the second half, but I thought our guys competed and played with intensity. That helps your offense.”
– ORU guards (Aaron Anderson, Jalen Bradley and Kris Martin): B- — It was a forgettable first half for ORU’s backcourt. Anderson, Bradley and Martin shot a combined 3 of 10 for eight points in the opening 20 minutes. That invoked a direct message from the coaching staff at halftime.
“We challenged them at halftime,” Sutton said, who also included Aaron Young among the group that needed to rise to the occasion in the second half. “They were the biggest difference in the game in the second half. That’s the best I’ve seen Deuce (Anderson) play.”
Aside from three rebounds and one assist in the first half, Anderson did all of his damage in the second half with 20 points and 10 rebounds, which gave him his first double-double.
Anderson finished 6 of 8 from the floor and 6 of 7 from the free throw line. Bradley and Martin finished with eight and nine points, respectively.
– Aaron Young: B+ — I’ll never not enjoy watching Young play. From his tenacity on defense to him taking out his mouthpiece and glaring at no one in particular while hyping himself up in his mind. It’s a joy to watch.
And his absence in the home loss to IUPUI was noticeable. But he returned, after clearing concussion protocol, and played 26 minutes against South Dakota, scoring nine points in the process. He is, for sure, the sixth man that ORU counts on.
“He’s another starter,” Sutton said of Young, an Edmond Memorial product. “He could easily be starting right now, and he’s started a bunch in his career. And he gives us one of our two best perimeter defenders.”
– Owens: A — If you haven’t come out to watch Owens yet, you’re missing out. While he lacks the essence and charisma of “Big Smooth” Sam Perkins or the scoring abilities of Wilt Chamberlain, Owens is becoming his own unique force in the middle for ORU.
Owens, with 21 points against South Dakota, has now scored 20-plus points in five straight game, averaging 22.8 points per game during that span. And the double teams that opponents are hurling at him aren’t getting to him much at all (two turnovers combined in the last two games).
“He demands double teams, and again I’ll keep saying this: Our best offense is getting him the ball and letting him make good decisions out of the post,” Sutton said. “He’s going to get our guys wide open shots.”
Owens’ biggest challenge will be producing Saturday against Omaha, a team that held him to 10 combined points in two games last season.
Update: Guard Jontray Harris will miss the remainder of the season after sustaining a recent foot injury. Look for McDaniel to get more minutes off the bench, or perhaps an uptick in Young’s time on the floor.