Ohio State braces for long-range shooting of nation's leading scorer Max Abmas of Oral Roberts
Paul Mills can remember the AAU event, the date and the exact way in which the pick-and-roll was executed that led him to Max Abmas.
It was early in what is now his four-year tenure as the Oral Roberts coach, and he was watching a player who stood about 6 feet tall weighing maybe a little more than 100 pounds. From there, Mills was hooked, especially once he got to know the kid.
Now, Abmas will lead Mills’ Golden Eagles into Mackey Arena on Friday for a shot at No. 2 seed Ohio State. Oral Roberts earned a No. 15 seed after winning the Summit League, and it brings a 16-10 record thanks in large part to the nation’s leading scorer. That would be Abmas, who scored 24.2 points per game and now is listed at 6-1, 165 pounds.
“I remember being with one of our other coaches and I said, ‘That dude right there is gonna be really good,' ” Mills said this week from inside the NCAA Tournament’s controlled environment in Indianapolis. “You have to be able to have the intangibles before you’re ever going to become a player and Max had checked every single box that there was.”
A native of Rockwall, Texas, Abmas landed scholarship offers from Air Force, Army, Navy and Marist before committing to Oral Roberts. He does not appear in the 247Sports.com rankings, but you wouldn’t know that from watching his highlights. A prolific scorer, Abmas is likely to pull up from a dribble or two just inside half-court — something Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann and his players have taken note of.
In discussing influences on his game, Abmas unsurprisingly cited Steph Curry and Damian Lillard, but he’s more than just a shooter. During the three-game run to a tournament championship, Abmas was only 2 for 17 from three but in one game dished out 10 assists.
“I want to be the best version of myself,” he said. “I watch a lot of NBA, guys like Damian Lillard, Steph Curry. Those are guys that I watched to see how to get their teammates involved, how they create their own shot … and add that to improve my game.”
Ohio State junior Musa Jallow, one of the Buckeyes’ best defenders and a player who could draw this defensive assignment, said he’s been watching film to try to get Abmas' movement patterns down and grow more familiar with where he likes to shoot.
The Buckeyes have used freshman Meechie Johnson Jr. to simulate Abmas in practice this week.
“You just have to have great attention on him the whole game,” Jallow said of Abmas. “He can shoot it wherever and he will shoot it whenever and wherever. It doesn’t matter. The confidence is there.”
The Golden Eagles aren’t just a one-man show, though. As a team, they shoot 38.8% from three-point range, the 11th-best mark in the nation. Abmas shoots 43.2% from deep (86 for 199), but two other teammates shoot better than 43% as well including 6-8, 225-pound junior center Kevin Obanor, who is 43 for 94 (45.7%) from deep. It’s maybe not much of a surprise: when players arrive at Oral Roberts, they are required to make 20,000 shots during their first six weeks.
They’re not blessed with great size, ranking 195th nationally in average height, but the Golden Eagles don’t lack for confidence.
“I put my shoes on just like they put their shoes on,” Obanor said. “If you’re good, you’ve got to show. They’re a very physical team. They spread the court a lot. They have great pieces, but I don’t fear nobody but God. I’m not scared in that aspect.”