Nothing about the game was prestigious, but it was important all the same. It was Oral Roberts and Western Illinois essentially going toe to toe for the eighth spot in the Summit League standings.
Didn’t exactly scream national game of the week — and it certainly didn’t attract any local media glances outside of myself and the Oracle’s Russell Dorsey. (PS, been that way all year, so why change now?)
Anyway, it became the same old song and dance for ORU: Golden Eagles flounder around for the majority of the game, make a last-ditch effort at a comeback, ultimately come up short.
Final score: Western Illinois 63, ORU 60 in a game that was projected as an ORU victory by KenPom.com and an eight-point win for the Golden Eagles in Vegas. Now, though, ORU will be an underdog in the remaining four games of the regular season, and the Golden Eagles are staring down the barrel of a campaign that ends without a berth into the Summit League Tournament.
That’s what made Wednesday’s game so important. But if ORU — and others in attendance— knew that, it sure didn’t play out like it. The Golden Eagles failed to play desperate basketball for 40 minutes, and coach Scott Sutton took notice afterward.
“Just a little bit flat, I’m not sure why,” he said. “Maybe it was because offensively we couldn’t get it going. It just seemed like we didn’t have the energy until about 5 1/2 minutes left, and then guys finally started playing desperate.”
I followed with, “how come there is no desperation from the very beginning with this team?”
Sutton’s rebuttal: “I don’t know. We talked about that in the locker room. …We’ve put up on the board several times, ‘you have to play desperate and with a sense of urgency.’ I just don’t know. It’s frustrating and I don’t have the answers.”
This is where I’d take time to hand out some grades, but being swept in a season by Western Illinois for the first time in ORU’s program history, you can assume not many would be high. Instead, I’ll outline the postgame discussion among Sutton, Dorsey and myself in the media room.
Losing a three-point game against Western Illinois featured ORU again not making plays down the stretch. That prompted me to ask Sutton, “what’s lacking from this team in terms of getting over the hump with five or six minutes left in a game?”
Sutton’s response slimmed down to one word: “Confidence.”
Along the way, Sutton mentioned ORU’s offensive stagnation against Western Illinois. The Golden Eagles made only 35.4 percent (23 of 65) of their field goals. ORU also couldn’t bury a 3-pointer, going 7 of 26 from beyond the 3-point arc. The 7 of 10 foul shooting was OK, but the Golden Eagles didn’t earn enough trips to the stripe.
One thing that was guaranteed to happen against Western Illinois was that the Leathernecks’ Garret Covington was going to try and put his team on his back. He did that in the second half, and to his credit, he made some tough shots while ORU played solid defense on him. Covington finished with a game-high 20 points, but ORU made him take 17 field goal attempts, of which he made seven.
Beyond that, nothing glaring grabs your attention from that game. Just a bad home loss for ORU, its third straight under the Mabee Center roof.