Oral Roberts' opponents warn: Ohio State's first-round NCAA foe is 'a tough team.'

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Missouri's Dru Smith shoots in front of Oral Roberts's Sheldon Stevens, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

The longest and most tumultuous offseason of Wichita State’s history came to a close on a Wednesday. Under interim coach Isaac Brown, the Shockers began the 2020-21 season with a home game against an Oral Roberts team that had lost to Missouri and beaten non-Division-I foe Rogers State to get its season underway.

As Brown prepared his team for the Golden Eagles, he pinpointed two key players to prepare for on a roster littered with shooters: guard Max Abmas and center Kevin Obanor.

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“They run some ball-screen action with those two guys and he can shoot the three just as well,” Brown said Wednesday. “You’ve got to do a really good job of guarding the three-point line. They are excellent at the pick-and-pop stuff.”

Ultimately, the Shockers did enough. After trailing by nine points near the midpoint of the second half, Wichita State rallied for an 85-80 win on December 2. The lessons Brown and his players picked up in their preparations are likely similar to what Ohio State’s staff is currently working through as the Buckeyes and Golden Eagles prepare for Friday’s first-round NCAA Tournament game.

Abmas leads the nation in scoring average at 24.2 points per game and shoots 42.1% from three. The 6-1, 165-pound Abmas takes top billing on the Oral Roberts scouting report, something Wichita State guard Tyson Etienne knew from having played against him in high school.

“He’s tough,” Etienne said. “He’s a great shooter. He’s been on a tear this week. I hope Ohio State is scouting him the right way.”

Oral Roberts played five games against high-major competition and lost each of them. First among them was a November 25 season opener against Missouri, which wound up earning a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers won the opener, 91-64, and limited Abmas to 18 points on 2-of-9 shooting from three.

Abmas would score 28 against Wichita State, an 11 seed in the tournament, and 33 against Oklahoma State, a 4 seed.

“He’s just a really good scorer,” senior Missouri guard Dru Smith said. “Sometimes there’s not a lot you can do with guys like that. You just have to maybe hope he’s having an off night. You just can’t let him get that many looks up.”

Added Brown: “He’s got NBA range. You’ve got to do a good job of standing out, 35 feet, to keep him from getting them off.”

Oral Roberts’ non-league slate also included losses to Oklahoma and Arkansas and its schedule included three games against teams from outside of Division I. It ranks 152 nd nationally according to KenPom., is 74th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 285th in defense. The Golden Eagles are 16-10 overall and won the Summit League tournament by beating North Dakota, South Dakota and South Dakota State in three straight games.

When asked about his team’s preparation for Oral Roberts, though, Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin didn’t have much to say.

“Are you writing about Oral Roberts or Ohio State?” he said when asked about the Golden Eagles.

When the reporter identified himself as working for the Dispatch and writing about the Buckeyes, Martin said, “I don’t want to give you a lot. Oral Roberts is a good team. I respect them. I don’t want to give you a lot. Ohio State has a great staff. They can figure that part out. Oral Roberts is a tough team.”

Ohio State is about to find out – if it hasn’t already.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy