INDIANAPOLIS – After 15-seed Oral Roberts rallied to knock off No. 7 Florida 81-78 on Sunday night at Indiana Farmers Coliseum, head coach Paul Mills was grateful for the simple things.
“I’m so happy for those players in that locker room,” Mills said. “For me, I’m glad that I get to do laundry. We got here last Saturday. We’ll be off tomorrow, so tomorrow will be a good day because I have run out of clothes.”
Mills pulled out all the stops to help the Golden Eagles (18-10) rally back from down 11 points in the final 10 minutes to pull off its second straight upset. With Florida up 76-75 and 3:17 remaining, Oral Roberts fouled Florida junior forward Osayi Osifo, a 50% free-throw shooter, on purpose to get him on the line for a one-and-one attempt. Osifo missed the front end.
“We weren’t getting stops,” Mills said. “He was 6-for-12. … We took a gamble, and it paid off.”
Every move clicked for Oral Roberts down the stretch. With the win, the Golden Eagles became just the second 15th seed in history and first since Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 to advance to the Sweet 16. No 15 seed has ever reached the Elite Eight, but Oral Roberts will get that chance when it faces three-seed Arkansas, which moved on earlier Sunday with a 68-66 win over Texas Tech.
Junior forward Kevin Obanor led Oral Roberts with 28 points and 11 rebounds, with guard Max Abmas, the nation’s leading scorer at 24.4 points per game, added 26 points. Abmas went 12-of-12 from the foul line.
“The last time we won a game in the NCAA Tournament was 1974, and now we’re in the Sweet 16,” Obanor said. “It’s really just mind-blowing. I’m grateful.”
Oral Roberts began its tournament run with a 75-72 overtime upset of No. 2 Ohio State on Friday.
“It means a lot, but at the end of the day, they’re just a team,” Obanor said. “We put our shoes on like they put their shoes on. So we just don’t look at like they are ranked No. 2. They have higher standards. They are better than us. We just come out with that mentality that if you’re better than us, you have to prove it.”
Though Obanor and Abmas helped fuel the win, an unlikely hero came up with the biggest shot of the game for the Golden Eagles. With Oral Roberts down 78-77, the Golden Eagles found junior forward Deshang Weaver open in the corner beyond the 3-point line against Florida’s 1-3-1 defense. Weaver, who had missed his first five shot attempts, calmly sank a 3-pointer to put Oral Roberts ahead to stay 80-78 with 2:09 remaining.
“That was a big shot that we needed,” Obanor said. “He came clutch when we needed it.”
Florida maintained control for the game’s first 30 minutes. The Gators were up 42-37 at halftime and took an 11-point lead, 67-56, on a driving layup by Noah Locke with 9:48 remaining. But Oral Roberts began its comeback with a four-point play, with Obanor hitting a 3-pointer as he was fouled by Florida forward Anthony Duruji, cutting the lead to 67-60. From there, Oral Roberts kept chipping away.
Oral Roberts took its first lead of the half, 77-76, on an Obanor layup. Locke got the lead back for Florida, 78-77, with a short jumper in the lane with 2:29 left. From there, Florida went cold, missing its final four shot attempts.
Ultimately, Florida (15-10) was unable to overcome turning the ball over 20 times, which led to 23 points for Oral Roberts (18-10).
"It destroyed us,” Florida coach Mike White said. “It's been our biggest issue all year. I don't know if there's anything else we could have tried in terms of motivation or film."
Tre Mann led four Florida scorers with 19 points but failed to score over the game’s final 17 minutes. Locke added 17 points.
The loss ended a string of 15 straight wins against double-digit seeds for Florida, dating back 17 years. Florida’s last loss against a double-digit seed came against 12th-seed Manhattan in the opening round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
Florida has made four straight NCAA Tournament appearances under White but hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 since its Elite Eight run in 2017. Florida lost its leading scorer from last season and preseason SEC player of the year candidate Keyontae Johnson when he collapsed on the court due to a heart issue in a game against Florida State in December but regrouped to reach the NCAA Tournament.
“Hard-fought game,” White said. “Very, very tough emotional season for these guys. I really would have liked Keyontae and his teammates a chance to celebrate and go to the Sweet 16. Unfortunately, these guys are crushed.”