ORU states its NCAA Tournament case with BracketBusters win over Akron
BY MIKE BROWN World Sports Writer
Sunday, February 19, 2012
2/19/12 at 6:39 AM
Related Story: ORU notebook: Big in the middle
With talk of at-large bids spicing the national conversation, the Oral Roberts basketball team took its case to national television.
The Golden Eagles led almost from start to finish Saturday and beat Akron 67-61 in a BracketBusters game before an ESPN2 television audience and a white-out, Senior Day crowd of 7,745 at the Mabee Center.
Dominique Morrison had 16 points and 12 rebounds and became the seventh man in school history to score 2,000 career points with a floater from the lane to end the first half.
ORU improved to 25-5, tying the school record for regular-season wins at the Division I level and tying a school record with its 23rd consecutive home win.
The Eagles did what only two teams have done since Dec. 10 - beat Akron. The Mid-American Conference-leading Zips had won eight straight games and 16 of their last 18.
"We beat a very good basketball team tonight, extremely well coached, tough," ORU coach Scott Sutton said. "That's an NCAA Tournament team, and it felt like a conference tournament game that the winner would go to the (NCAA Tournament)."
But did it bust the bracket? Was it enough to enhance ORU's argument for an at-large invitation to the Big Dance? Most experts see the Golden Eagles as a longshot if they fail to win the Summit League Tournament.
"It certainly couldn't hurt them," said Akron head coach Keith Dambrot, who's team entered the day at 61 in the Ratings Percentage Index. ORU was 48.
"They're a good team - better defensively than we expected them to be," Dambrot said. "They really got after us, especially in the first half. This is a good win for them, and if they could get into the high-30s (in RPI) I would think they would have a chance."
ORU led by as many as 15 points in the first half with Warren Niles scoring seven of his 12 points, and by 33-22 at halftime on Morrison's late shot.
But the Eagles haven't gotten this far by blowing out opponents. More often, they've had to battle and make plays down the stretch, and this was no exception.
Akron came out energized in the second half and twice closed ORU's margin to one. It was still a game at 54-51 after Zeke Marshall's basket with 6:51 left, but the Eagles ran off six straight points.
"Basketball's a game of runs," Morrison said. "You're not gonna be able to stop 'em all the time. We knew they were gonna make a run, but we had to fight back. We knew they were a good team. They're not first in their league for nothing. But we didn't want to lose. They punched us in the mouth and we had to punch back."
Morrison rebounded and scored with a miss by Niles, then lost his defender and hit a floater along the left baseline. Next, came the game's wildest play.
Niles emerged from a crowd with a loose ball, but went down in a collision of bodies at midcourt. The ball skittered to Michael Craion, who zinged it ahead to Damen Bell-Holter, who had to race underneath the basket and score from the other side with a scooping, left-handed shot off the glass.
That brought the fans out of their seats and pushed ORU's lead to 60-51.
Akron wasn't done. Alex Abreu's 3-pointer made it 60-56 with 2:58 and the Eagles lost Rod Pearson on a charge for his fifth foul with 2:43 left.
But Akron's Chauncey Gilliam missed a 3-pointer and Craion scored on Mikey Manghum's inbounds pass and it was 62-56.
Akron trimmed the gap to 62-58, but Morrison hit two foul shots, then two more, and the Zips missed four 3-point attempts down the stretch.
Bell-Holter had 15 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots, helping neutralize Akron's 7-foot Zeke Marshall, who had three blocked shots but only four points and one rebound in 27 minutes.
Abreu's 16 points paced the Zips, who lead the Mid-American Conference with an 11-1 mark in league play.
ORU up next
At Southern Utah
8:30 p.m. Saturday
Radio: KYAL fm97.1, am1550
Original Print Headline: ORU makes its NCAA case
Mike Brown 918-581-8390
ORU’s Michael Craion (right) and Damen Bell-Holter battle for a rebound as Craion is fouled by Akron’s Zeke Marshall during Saturday’s game. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World