Rice takes the reigns at Miami

Andrew Rice is a head coach for the first time. And he’s getting that shot at Miami.
Rice was named Miami’s new head coach at a special board meeting on Friday morning.
“Words can’t express how excited I am,” Rice said. “A lot of people have invested a lot of time in me as a coach and person so hopefully I can make them proud. I’m also just thankful that (Miami superintendent) Mr. (Jeremy) Hogan is taking a chance on me
Rice, 27, takes over after serving as Bartlesville’s offensive coordinator for the past two seasons. In 2015, the Bruins put up 421 points in a 12-game season, a campaign that ended in the Class 6AII semifinals. That Bartlesville team had the offensive exploits of quarterback Colton Penrod (3,294 passing yards and 42 touchdowns), Jarron Hilger (1,028 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns), A.J. Archambo (1,031 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns and A.J. Parker (781 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns).
Without Penrod, Hilger and Parker in 2016, Archabmo starred again under Rice, and wide receivers coach Justin Gordon, with 66 catches for 1,143 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Prior to coaching at Bartlesville, Rice was at Bixby for a season and then Sand Springs for two.
Now he’s ready to voyage into his own head-coaching tenure.
“It being the first head job will always be special,” Rice said. “When you add that to the type of place Miami is, it makes it such a great opportunity. It is like a sleeping giant with the kids there and support from the community. That part makes it so much better and exciting.”
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Rice takes over for James Cheatham, who was 11-29 in four seasons at the helm for the Wardogs.
Last season, Miami went 1-9 overall and 1-6 in District 4A-3, which featured the 4A champion (Wagoner) and 4A runner-up (Oologah).
“Our expectations are going to be high,” Rice said. “We want to make sure that in everything we do we’re improving constantly. We’re going to make sure we roll up our sleeves and attack the weight room, and carry that over to playing fast and physical on the field.”
As for what he’s learned along the way to groom his for this position, Rice pointed to the mentorship he had under Bartlesville head coach John McKee.
“Coach McKee really did a great job giving me opportunities to do things that a head coach is required to do,” Rice said. “The things that worked at Bartlesville will be the same things I try to bring to Miami, and that’s building relationships and getting after it in the weight room.”
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Taywone McNack and the resurgence of McLain wrestling

Taywone McNack is going to abstain from barbeque — but only until Sunday.

McNack, a McLain senior fresh off a regional championship, is headed back the Class 4A state wrestling tournament this weekend. Last year, McNack suffered a 3-2 decision loss to Harrah’s Braden Visnieski, and McNack then fell short of the consolation finals with a 18-6 major decision loss to Cleveland’s Tyler West.

So, how will McNack approach this year’s state tournament differently?

“It is funny that you asked,” he said, “but don’t eat a slab of ribs the day before the tournament, but instead come in on weight.”

The resistance will be tough, but it could pave the way to a better outcome this season for McNack, who is matched up against Cascia Hall’s D.J. Anderson in the opening round of the 120-pound weight class.

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And when it comes to momentum, McNack has a boatload of it headed with him to Oklahoma City.

Last weekend, McNack scored a 10-6 victory over Cleveland’s Blake Hickerson to claim a regional championship. Not too shabby for a wrestler who only truly invested into the sport a few years ago.

“It is only my third year of wrestling,” said McNack, who is 34-6 this season. “And that is a big accomplishment.”

In fact, McNack’s regional supremacy is only the second time this season he’s won a tournament. He had posted third-place finishes at tournaments in Cushing, Catoosa and Bishop Kelley, while topping the field at the Skiatook field this year.

“I shot for first at every one, but things did not always go my way,” McNack said of previous outcomes this season. “It was special winning Skiatook, because that was my first tournament to be champion since I started wrestling my sophomore year. Adding on the regional title was very special to me, because I worked very hard and feel like I deserved it.”

McNack’s performance has also provided a spotlight to a program that had gone virtually noticed until McNack, Jelani Lewis (22) and Hollis Tuggle (in the heavyweight class) qualified for last year’s state tournament. But if you ask McLain coach J. Paul Ganzel, it’s all been part of the plan.

“When I was hired as head wrestling coach, our (athletic director’s) three-year goals were: qualify a wrestler to the state tournament and win a dual,” Ganzel recalled. “On year one, we only had four wrestlers in the room and won only one match in our single dual and the regional tournament.”

But then McLain made vast improvements — and in short order, too.

“Year two we inspired more interest in the sport from the students, meaning more numbers in the room, and we won four duals, as well as qualifying Jelani Lewis to the state tournament,” Ganzel said. “Last year, year three, we entered several dual tournaments with the goal of getting as much individual experience as possible, and this turned into 11 dual wins as well as qualifying three to state.”

The foundation has been cemented by McNack and Tuggle, and Ganzel said that’ll push other McLain wrestlers that much harder next year.

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“I expect the success of the two will motivate the others in the room next year,” he said. “It will encourage them to jump on board with the hard work it takes to become a champion, and in turn we will within a few short years be in contention for both the state and dual state titles, respectfully.”

For Ganzel, though, the journey with McNack and Tuggle throughout their wrestling careers has trumped all else.

“Being a part of these two boy’s journey into manhood has been one of the most rewarding things in my life,” Ganzel said. “The adversity they have overcome and the positive character changes they have implemented would make a best-selling movie, if the whole story be told. Both Taywone and Hollis have a more than legitimate chance of becoming state champions, and I look forward to seeing how high they climb in the ladder of life after wrestling.”

Grading the Golden Eagles – North Dakota State edition

It comes as no surprise that Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton has had plenty of restless nights the past two months. An 0-3 start on the road in Summit League play segued to what ended up being a 3-5 campaign at the Mabee Center in conference games.

In the end, the Golden Eagles wrapped up their 2016-2017 season on Wednesday with an 82-80 loss to North Dakota State, and that cemented ORU’s final record of 8-22 overall and 4-12 in league play. Needless to say, this season offered plenty of long, sleepless nights for Sutton.

“I haven’t slept very well over the last two months,” Sutton said after Wednesday’s game and hours before he was to catch a 6 a.m. flight to go recruit. “I’ll likely get a couple hours of sleep (before the flight), but it’ll be all right.”

Outside of home victories over Little Rock, Richmond (maybe the best win of the year), South Dakota State, Omaha and South Dakota, there was little revel in this year for the Golden Eagles. And Wednesday night offered much of the same script for ORU: Play decently enough to win but watch as the opponent becomes opportunistic and cashes in on crucial plays.

For the final time, I’ll pass out some grades from the season’s final game. And in the coming days, I’ll pass out overall season grades.

So let’s get to it…

– Vegas oddsmakers: A+ —Somehow the oddsmakers just knew ORU’s Isaac Gilliam would knock down a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the game. The Bison owned an 82-77 lead before Gilliam closed out the Golden Eagles’ season with a long trey.

That meant the oddsmakers hit the game’s final spread right on the nose: North Dakota State by two. And sure enough, that’s what happened.

If people bet on the Bison to cover the spread, they had to be absolutely furious with how the final seven seconds played out (Gilliam receives the inbounds pass, North Dakota State players back way off and Gilliam buries a long 3-pointer between the top of the key and right wing).

– Albert Owens: B+ — In the process of becoming one of the best inside scorers in the Summit League, Owens recorded his 14th 20-point game of the season. He finished with 23 points on 9 of 16 shooting.

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ORU’s Albert Owens (44) had 23 points and nine rebounds against North Dakota State on Wednesday.

Owens, for the fifth time in his career, matched a career high with nine rebounds. I’d bet money he has at least one game of 10 rebounds next season.

Owens finished just shy of an “A” because his shot attempt to tie the game at 79 with 45 seconds left  was blocked by North Dakota State’s Dexter Werner, who made a solid play on the ball.

But after Werner got the best of Owens in Fargo in January, Owens responded with a  solid game to close the season out.

– Rebounding: D — Look, North Dakota State is not a great rebounding team. The Bison are barely on the plus side when it comes to rebounding margin this year (0.2). But North Dakota State out-rebounded ORU 45-35, and that just can’t happen.

Where ORU probably got lucky was that North Dakota State only had 7 second-chance points on 13 offensive rebounds.

– Kris Martin: C- — Martin had things rolling through the month of January, and you could see him becoming one of the better scorers in the league. But a scoreless effort against Fort Wayne on Jan. 28 sent him sputtering toward the finish line.

Martin had 3 points on 1 of 6 shooting against North Dakota State, so in his final three games of the season he had a combined 17 points.

I fully expect Martin to be an offensive force for the Golden Eagles during his junior campaign next year.

– Aaron Young/Aaron Anderson/Jalen Bradley/Darian Harris/Isaac Gilliam: B — Solid outing from the seniors (and Harris, a junior) on their way out. You have to feel for Harris, who has labored through knee issues for months now; I’m sure that hasn’t been easy.

Young, Anderson and Bradley all scored in double figures for their final games, but I’m sure they would have traded those efforts for a win.

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Isaac Gilliam (12), Aaron Young (0), Aaron Anderson (13), Darian Harris (33) and Jalen Bradley (10) were recognized following the game.

– Mabee Center: D- — This isn’t on the promotional staff, because I loved a lot of what they did this year, and I even lauded them after one of the earlier conference games.

This falls squarely on the people who run the Mabee Center … what in the world happened on Wednesday? The intro music was full of old-school Jock Jams (not terrible, but not the same as it’s been all year). And the sound system was a complete debacle, with a floor speaker, I’m guessing, being utilized as the only way to hear public address announcer Mike Canada. It was a fiasco.

And the pregame fireworks haven’t been a problem all year, that I’ve noticed. But the ones on Wednesday seemed to offer a fog that hung over the Mabee Center floor for a lot of the first half.

Just a complete mess.

Up next: The offseason. Thanks for reading along this season. Be on the lookout for final season grades before too long.

Corbin hired as Choctaw’s head coach, athletic director

Jake Corbin is now the new head football coach at Choctaw after a special board meeting on Thursday afternoon. It’ll be Corbin’s third stop as a varsity head coach.

But it’s what he has learned in his prior two stops at Sapulpa and Del City that speaks volumes.

“I’ve learned that kids everywhere need men in their lives,” Corbin said. “As men, we’ve done a terrible job of that. We hope that the current generation will do a better job than ours.”

That’s a pretty powerful statement, one that trumps just about anything else Corbin could say about being hired to lead the Yellowjackets.

At Del City in 2016, Corbin led the Eagles to a 6-5 record and a playoff berth that ended with a first-round loss to Bishop McGuinness. For Corbin, delivering his departure message to his players on Thursday was difficult.

“It’s extremely difficult to leave Del City. I love my kids here. I’ve formed lifelong bonds with these kids and they are champions,” said Corbin, who has also served assistant roles at Union, Del City and Broken Arrow. “The next coach is going to walk into a gold mine of extremely talented and terrific, high-character young men.”

Now he takes over the position that Todd Dilbeck vacated. Dilbeck left Choctaw to become an assistant director for the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association.

“The community support is out of this world and the facilities are top notch,” Corbin said of Choctaw. “The district has made a commitment to providing the best environment possible for students. Coach Dilbeck and his staff have done a wonderful job, and I believe the recipe is already there.”

It certainly is, based on the Yellowjackets being on the verge of a Class 6AII title contender in 2016 despite not making the playoffs. Choctaw went 5-5 but all five setbacks were by seven points or less.

“It’s limitless,” Corbin said of Choctaw’s potential. “The ingredients are there: great town to live in, high academics, community support, facilities, talent. Now, combine that with a committed administration and I believe it is a top-tier program.”

Grading the Golden Eagles — Western Illinois edition

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.

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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.

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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.

Wilkinson steps down as Deer Creek’s head coach

Jay Wilkinson, after one season as Deer Creek’s head coach, has stepped down from that position. The move became official Friday, Wilkinson said.

The former Coweta head coach, Wilkinson went 2-8 in his lone season as the Antlers’ head coach. At Coweta, Wilkinson went 12-10 over two seasons with a playoff berth in both years.

Wilkinson had taken over the head-coaching vacancy at Deer Creek, which was left by Grant Gower when he joined the Oklahoma Baptist University staff.

Prior to Coweta, Wilkinson served as Broken Arrow’s offensive coordinator after being the head coach at Metro Christian during the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

Grading the Golden Eagles – Fort Wayne edition

Boy oh boy, you could tell Oral Roberts’ 87-83 loss to Fort Wayne stung. It was the definition of a polar opposite compared to the vibes being exuded after a 103-86 thumping of Omaha a week prior.

ORU did nearly everything well against Omaha. See the grades for yourself.

Against Fort Wayne, it continued an Indiana problem inside the Mabee Center. Against IUPUI, ORU lacked energy and execution, and against Fort Wayne the Golden Eagles staggered a little bit in the energy department early on and it hampered the execution as crucial minutes past in both halves.

The Golden Eagles found themselves in an 11-point hole with 16:46 left, but they managed to trim that to a 59-57 deficit (after a 11-2 run) in four minutes of game time. But ORU could never conquered the comeback trail until it tied the game on Jalen Bradley’s free throw with 1:19 left. One free throw later and the Golden Eagles led 80-79 with 79 seconds remaining.

But it was short-lived and ORU had to swallow another disheartening loss — the kind that continues to keep the Golden Eagles from making up ground in the Summit League standings.

“I didn’t think we played as tough as we have to play,” ORU coach Scott Sutton said. “I thought we played a little soft, to be honest.”

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Emmanuel Nzekwesi and the ORU Golden Eagles lost 87-83 to Fort Wayne on Saturday.

On to the grades…

– Jalen Bradley: B+ — It was obvious that Bradley wanted the ball down the stretch, and he deserved it, too. At times, he was strapping the Golden Eagles to his back and keeping them afloat. He finished with 17 points and 10 of those came in the second half, including five in a row on a 3-pointer to pull ORU within 79-78 and then two free throws to give ORU a one-point lead.

– Albert Owens: B- — Owens’ streak of 20-point games continued to eight, but it was far from his best game during that run. Owens was terrific, for the most part, in Wednesday’s loss to North Dakota State, but he picked up a really quick foul — 69 seconds into the game — against Fort Wayne, and perhaps that messed with his mindset.

After that, he missed some shots that he’s been making around the basket, and his missed shots created a trickle-down effect to the rest of his teammates.

Also, Owens had zero rebounds at halftime, and he finished with four. I think that’s the one area of Owens’ game where he should be cleaning house, but then there are games like Saturday where he manages to grab fewer than a handful of rebounds.

– Bench: B- — Aaron Young and Darian Harris — ORU’s only two bench players to log any time against Fort Wayne — combined for 18 points, but only five of those came in the second half. I thought Young and Harris provided some solid energy, but there were some issues late. See further down…

– Kris Martin: D- — Martin not scoring in ORU’s game at Fort Wayne was shocking enough. But for him not to score AGAIN versus Fort Wayne, that’s mind-boggling. It wasn’t for a lack of trying since Martin threw up some early shot attempts, but the shots just didn’t go in.

A microcosm of the day was when Sutton subbed Martin out only one minute and 44 seconds into the second half, and Martin headed to the bench with a puzzled look on his face and his palms facing upward. Sutton had no choice but to go with Young, who appeared to be a better scorer on the day.

“He’s one of the best scorers in the league,” ORU guard Aaron Anderson said of Martin. “He’s like my little brother, but he just has to come ready to play every game.

I’d be willing to bet that Martin doesn’t have a scoreless game the rest of the season. Sometimes, players just have those games, and what’s unfortunate for ORU is that if Martin scores a modest eight to 12 points, the Golden Eagles probably win that game.

“I don’t know what was wrong with K-Mart,” Sutton said. “K-Mart is a great scorer, and this is his second game in a row against these guys where he hasn’t scored. That’s just almost…I can’t believe it.”

– Late-game execution: D — Fort Wayne’s Brent Calhoun scored a go-ahead basket to give the Mastodons an 81-80 lead, and ORU had a chance to come right back and score after a 30-second timeout.

The Golden Eagles passed the ball around, and they were looking for the best option. That’s when Darian Harris threw up a 3-pointer from the right wing, and Fort Wayne’s John Konchar got a fingertip on it for the block. The ball cascaded down into Mo Evans’ hands, and the Golden Eagles fouled him, sending him to the free throw line where he buried both foul shots.

Harris scored all eight of his points in the first half, but his confidence in the second half compared to the first is night and day. Harris usually becomes a facilitator in the final 20 minutes, and finding Bradley or Young in that situation would have been more ideal if you wanted to go the 3-point route. Or, Owens and Emmanuel Nzekwesi had succeeded in scoring inside the perimeter, so that could have been another plausible option.

“Have to make plays down the stretch,” Sutton said. “Their guys did it and we didn’t.”

– Energy: D- — It appeared like the IUPUI game was on repeat for periods of the first half. That should have been the first red flag in the ultimate outcome of the game.

Asked if the effort is there from everyone on the roster right now, Anderson simply said, “no.” That was it.

– Rebounding: F — This goes back to the Indiana issue inside the Mabee Center. IUPUI out-rebounded ORU by 11 (36-25) earlier in January, and Fort Wayne enjoyed a 13-rebound (39-26) on Saturday. Think of it this way: Konchar was only out-rebounded by ORU by 12, and he’s only one singular person. Mix in Konchar’s teammates and it was a mismatch on the glass.

– Chris Miller’s value: A — Miller may only average 3.9 points and 2.6 rebounds per game while playing 11.3 minutes, but wow are those value numbers off the bench. ORU, without having Miller, seemed severely out-manned, despite Miller’s rather pedestrian numbers. Goes to show how much Owens values a few breathers here and there throughout a game.

– Accounting for Konchar: D- — Konchar was on pace for a triple-double at halftime with six points, nine rebounds and five assists. He fell short of that, but he is undoubtedly the best 6-foot-5 player in the league. The guy can do it all.

“He pushes that envelope every night,” Fort Wayne coach Jon Coffman said of Konchar, who had 13 points, 14 rebounds and six assists against ORU. “…Where he’s really special is Mo, in two games in a row, has picked up two fouls early in the first half. But I can take John, who starts as our power forward, and move him to point guard, and he can play anything in between. That is pretty special.”

Up next: Semi-quick turnaround with Denver at the Mabee Center on Tuesday night. Pioneers have played solid basketball in league play, so the Golden Eagles have no choice but to flush the Fort Wayne game out of their memory banks.

Grading the Golden Eagles – Omaha edition

Tra-Deon Hollins made his final appearance in Tulsa when Omaha departed northeast Oklahoma with a 103-86 loss to Oral Roberts on Saturday. If you didn’t make it a point to go watch Hollins, you missed out. Hollins is pure entertainment every time he steps on the basketball court.

And he amplified that against ORU with a career-high 33 points to go along with nine assists and eight rebounds. ORU coach Scott Sutton was none too pleased that his players allowed Hollins to get hot, but I thought the Golden Eagles did a good job eliminating other threats from Marcus Tyus and Tre’Shawn Thurman.

Bottom line, if you missed the Tra-Deon Hollins Show, that’s your loss. Luckily for you, Fort Wayne comes to town Saturday with John Konchar being nearly as entertaining.

Now, on to the ORU grades vs. Omaha…

– Shooting early: D — It wasn’t pretty for either team early on. The only players who were able to score in the early stages of the game were ORU’s Jalen Bradley and Hollins. Outside of that, it was mostly missed shots all over the place.

“I kept telling the guys, ‘we’re going to make some shots,’” Sutton said. “We were getting some good looks, and we missed some easy ones. I wasn’t concerned about our scoring.”

And for good reason…

– Final 25 minutes: A — The Golden Eagles started to drain some shots around the time of the final media timeout in the first half. They didn’t cool off until the final buzzer sounded.

In the second half alone, ORU shot 58.1 percent (18 of 31) from the field. The Golden Eagles also protected the basketball and only turned it over five times in the final 20 minutes.

– Albert Owens: A — Basically just repeat here what has been said about Owens since the calendar flipped to 2017. He’s been a consistent force inside for the Golden Eagles, and he churned out a career high 28 points against Omaha.

“Albert was dominant after the first four or five minutes,” Sutton said of Owens, who knocked down 11 of 19 field goals after missing his first six attempts.

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Owens throws down a dunk for two of his 28 points against Omaha on Saturday.

Last season, Owens combined for only 10 points in two games against Omaha — a team that has caused Owens fits because of its up-tempo nature. But he clearly isn’t having any problems against anyone in the Summit League right now.

“He’s such a different player this year,” Sutton said of Owens. “He’s worked hard, and he’s playing with a ton of confidence.”

– Offense: A- — If not for the game’s first 7 to 10 minutes, this would be an easy “A” or “A-plus” for the Golden Eagles. Offensive efficiency through the roof.

Kris Martin had 26 points, Bradley had 24 and Emmanuel Nzekwesi had 13 points to go along with 12 rebounds.

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ORU’s Jalen Bradley scored 24 points against his former club in the Golden Eagles’ 103-86 win over Omaha.

Those four players — if they are consistently hitting shots — provide ORU with an arsenal of offensive weapons that is hard to account for.

– Player grades: A+ — I asked Owens and Martin after the game to grade ORU’s performance against South Dakota and Omaha, and they were both honest.

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Kris Martin scored 26 points and was one of three 20-point scores for the Golden Eagles in a 103-86 win over Omaha on Saturday. It was the first time ORU had three 20-point scorers since 2011.

“The first half of the South Dakota game we started slow, but we stepped up in the second half,” Martin said. “Together, I’ll give us an ‘A.’ We came out with a win and protected our home court (in both games).”

Owens was a little more critical.

“Honestly, I’d have to say the South Dakota game was a ‘B,’” he said. “We won but we let that game get a lot closer than it should have been. (Against Omaha), I’d say that’s an ‘A,’ because we did what (the coaching staff) asked us to do, except for on Tra-Deon.”

That deserves an A-plus for honesty.

– Defense: C+ — Look, I think we can all agree that ORU isn’t going to be creating any kind of instructional videos from this season on how to play defense. The Golden Eagles are ranked 323rd nationally in allowing an average of 80 points per game.

That’s just the way it goes, and truth be told, ORU probably won’t get much better than the 250th best team in terms of scoring defense.

But the Golden Eagles can spend the rest of the season going for steals and coming up with spurts of solid defense. If they are able to do that, then Owens, Bradley, Martin and Nzekwesi should be able to come up with enough offense to produce wins.

ORU got hammered by Hollins, but things came difficult for every other Omaha player. And that’s close to the recipe ORU can follow the rest of the year.

– Bench play: C- — The five reserves that played (Aaron Young, Darian Harris, Dezmond McDaniel, Isaac Gilliam and Chris Miller) produced only eight points, you’d like to see a little more than that from this group. But Harris and Miller did grab a combined seven rebounds, and overall this group did enough to spell the ORU starters who had a chance to rest and then come back in and score at will, basically.

– Game photos: A++ — If you haven’t had a chance to check out Ian Maule’s photo gallery from the game – http://www.tulsaworld.com/photovideo/slideshows/photo-gallery-oru-vs-omaha/collection_e0cc1afe-879f-5584-adab-26302cf10a05.html – don’t waste any more time and click on the link. Seriously, click on anything hyperlinked here, and you won’t be disappointed.

 

Up next: A tough test awaits ORU at North Dakota State for a midweek league game.

Grading the Golden Eagles — South Dakota edition

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.

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Chris Miller had eight points against South Dakota in a 90-80 win on Wednesday night at the Mabee Center.

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.”

Great segue…

– 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.

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Aaron Anderson registered his first double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds in ORU’s win over South Dakota.

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.

Grading the Golden Eagles — IUPUI edition

Well, just when it appeared that Oral Roberts was gaining its sea legs after a nomadic start to conference play, the Golden Eagles go and play uninspired against an IUPUI team that is far from a juggernaut.

“This team, for us to have any success, they have to have a chip on their shoulder,” ORU coach Scott Sutton said. “…They have to play desperate because we’re a desperate team.

“…We were going to be in all right shape and one game back of second place (with a win), but (IUPUI) played like a desperate team and we didn’t.”

 

Now, on to the grades…

– Urgency: D+ — The game, for 32 to 35 minutes, put off a vibe of “let’s get this thing to halftime and reassess where we’re.” Here’s where that gets problematic: The first half is only 20 minutes long.

Neither team really could be bothered to show much interest until the game was inside the final eight minutes. IUPUI led by as many at 11 with 6:14 left, and that’s about the time ORU kicked things into gear to try and make a last-ditch effort.

It was too late, though.

“We waited 36 or 37 minutes until we started playing desperate basketball,” Sutton said. “It was too late.”

 

– Rebounds/Hustle: C- — IUPUI is far from a big team, but the Jaguars managed to out-rebound ORU 36-25 with 14 of those being the offensive variety for IUPUI. The Jaguars cashed those in for 16 second-chance points.

“They beat us to loose balls, beat us to offensive rebounding — out-toughed us,” Sutton said. “Not much else to say.”

 

– Defense: F+ — We’ll go F-plus for this exercise, because a F-minus might as well be players being stationary and not attempting to guard anyone. But the Golden Eagles at least tried to put hands in faces of shooters.

But the Jaguars still managed to shoot 54.8 percent (34 of 62) from the field and 11 of 22 from beyond the 3-point arc. And D.J. McCall, who is far from an elite scoring machine, made 21 points look like a breeze.

“Awful,” Sutton said, summing up his defense with one singular adjective. “It’s awful.”

Sutton also made a great point when he noted that IUPUI was held to 56 points last year at the Mabee Center, and how many of those same ORU players are back this year. So what changed?

“They had 55 in the game last year,” Sutton said “We gave up 50 in the first half (Saturday). Can’t contain the basketball, no help and … there’s just no carry over (from practice).”

 

– Late-game execution: C — This is a “high” grade because of Kris Martin throwing the team on his back and nearly pulling off a stupendous comeback. But Aaron Anderson’s isolation drive to the rim with 30 seconds left and ORU down three (86-83) was not ideal.

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“We wanted to get something to the rim,” Sutton said.

Check.

“We didn’t think we had to settle for a 3,” Sutton said.

Another check.

“(IUPUI’s Matt O’Leary) made a nice play,” Sutton said of O’Leary’s block that all but sealed the game.

Crushing.

And given Martin’s shooting temperature at the time (red hot), having him create off the dribble might have been more ideal. But again, kudos to O’Leary because it was a solid block.

 

Martin/Owens/Jalen Bradley: B+ — Because of ORU’s record, the production from these guys is probably not getting noticed. But they are playing really well.

Martin is coming into his own as a sophomore. Owens is becoming a legitimate force in the middle. Bradley is proving to be a consistent scorer and solid distributor.

The three combined for 63 points and 21 of 42 shooting in the game. Hard to turn down those numbers on a nightly basis.

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Crowd: D — Look, ORU crowds aren’t what they used to be. We all get that. But the Hall of Fame game has always generated a decent crowd the past several years — or least it seemed to. Only 2,595 were announced for Saturday’s game against IUPUI.

Maybe the weather played a role. Maybe people wanted to watch NFL playoff games. Who knows. All I know is not many people showed up, and the ones that did took cues from both teams and didn’t get emotionally invested until the final four to five minutes.

 

Up next: ORU continues at home against an upstart South Dakota team on Wednesday.