Oral Roberts upsets No. 13 New Mexico
Add another to Oral Roberts' growing list of upsets.
The same Golden Eagles who burst onto the national scene by beating No. 3 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse in November 2006 are at it again.
Michael Craion had 18 points and 13 rebounds, Dominique Morrison scored 17 points and Oral Roberts handed No. 13 New Mexico its first loss of the season, 75-66 on Wednesday night.
"I bet a lot of people didn't expect for us to come out there and play as hard as we did, to win the game," Morrison said.
Except those who have been following the tiny school from the Summit League.
Already with wins over Missouri and Stanford this season, ORU took an early 13-point lead but then had to make another charge after the Lobos (12-1) rallied to take the lead in the second half.
Warren Niles hit a jumper from the right side to give the Golden Eagles (7-6) a 59-58 lead with 6:32 to play and ignited a 10-0 run. Kevin Ford pushed the lead to nine with a two-handed jam off a touch pass from Craion that sealed the victory.
"This is why you play," Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton said. "I tell the guys this is why you do all the conditioning in the fall, lift all the weights and the hours and hours of practices, to have an opportunity like this. To play against a ranked team. a great team in my opinion, if they're not excited about playing, there's something wrong with them."
The Lobos came in trying to win their first 13 games in a season for only the second time in school history, but ran into an Oral Roberts team with a penchant for pulling upsets. The Golden Eagles were hosting a Top 25 team for the first time since 1996 and were playing at the Mabee Center for the first time since a memorial for the school's namesake and founder was held at the arena two days earlier.
Oral Roberts, who died last week at age 91, was honored in the invocation and players wore black, circular patches with his initials on their jerseys.
"I thought this was a difficult situation for our guys to handle for a lot of reasons," Lobos coach Steve Alford said. "You've won 12 straight, now you're ranked (13th) in the country. Things have kind of just gone according to plan, and sometimes you need that plan to take a hit to see what you're made of. That's what I'm anxious to see."
Phillip McDonald and Dairese Gary had 13 points each for New Mexico, which had off nights from leading scorers Darington Hobson and <fstl:categorylink categoryId="413057">Roman Martinez. Hobson scored 11 points on 5-of-14 shooting and Martinez had four points while making only 1 of 9 shots. Both had been averaging just under 17 points.
New Mexico ended up becoming the highest-ranked opponent to lose at Oral Roberts. Sutton considered it the biggest home victory of his 11 seasons as ORU's coach, and behind only the team's three conference titles that sent them to the NCAA tournament three of the past four years and that Kansas win.
The game was set up after Sutton agreed to put his team through a brutal nonconference stretch last season to get return games at the Mabee Center against Missouri and New Mexico this season - and both would become signature wins for the program.
Only a handful of students ran onto the court to celebrate, perhaps because the upsets aren't so unexpected anymore.
"We haven't had these opportunities very often - most of the time on the road against these teams or at the very best, on a neutral site," Sutton said. "To have two of them at home, we had to sacrifice some things last year to get this schedule. Obviously, it's paid off so far."
Oral Roberts, which has lost three players - including two point guards - to season-ending injuries, took advantage of a brief absence by Hobson to build on its lead down the stretch. While a trainer attended to a cut on Hobson's left arm, Ken Holdman nailed a 3-pointer and Ford hit a hook shot from the right block to make it 64-58. But even after Hobson returned, the Lobos couldn't make the charge they needed.
New Mexico, which had been one of only two teams in the nation averaging less than 10 turnovers, had 13 against Oral Roberts.
"We're just not playing as sharp as we have been. Just some little things, and it's a very young basketball team," Alford said. "And now I'm interested to see how we handle a loss.
"They've done a heck of a job getting this thing to 12-1 before Christmas, and I told them that in the locker room. We've done a lot of really good things and it's the start of a very good season, but we've got to get back to work."
Holdman finished with 13 points and Niles had 10 for the Golden Eagles, who built a 21-8 lead and then answered a run of seven consecutive Lobos points with 11 in a row of their own to lead 38-27 at halftime.
Hobson had six points in a 17-5 run for New Mexico, and his layup gave the Lobos their first lead at 46-45 with 12:20 remaining.
Then Oral Roberts closed out the game, just as it has against so many other marquee programs in recent years.
That left only one problem for Sutton, who would like to avoid another brutal stretch like last season.
"It's going to make it harder and harder to get guys in here to play us," Sutton said. "They may not want to come back."