It's Bedlam Saturday here in Oklahoma in a state where football is king, which was obvious when I walked in to Mabee Center on the campus of Oral Roberts University. Only a few hundred had made it out to the game tonight against Southern Utah which was considerably less than the crowds I saw at the last two ORU games I had attended this season. I also noticed that the football game was playing on the TVs in the handful of suites in the arena. But I was here to watch a basketball game because #TMM8 > Bedlam Football.
On this night my seat was on the first row along the baseline, near the ORU bench, and sitting right behind the ORU dance squad. As ORU entered the stadium under the giant inflatable Eli the Eagle to my right, I noticed legendary coach Eddie Sutton walk in with the Golden Eagles. Eddie's son Scott is the coach of ORU and his other son Sean is serving as an assistant. When the game started I was a little worried that I wouldn't be able to see much of the action as the dance team was standing and cheering. Don't get me wrong, I didn't mind the view, but I did want to watch the game on the court and not on the screens on the overhead scoreboard. Fortunately, after the first dead ball they took their seat on the floor near the baseline.
The game started off with both teams working the ball inside. ORU had a slight size advantage and was able to capitalize on that to get some good looks but couldn't seem to finish early on. Southern Utah on the other hand was able to get inside and finish to start the game off with a 5-0 run leading to an 8-3 lead at the under 16 time out. Interestingly enough, everybody in the arena noticed that the clock was running after the stoppage for this time out for about 15 seconds except for the officials and the clock operator. Fortunately the error was fixed and game moved on. ORU came out of the time out in a zone trap press and it paid off as ORU was able to work the game back to a tie at the under 12 timeout.
As the first half wore on, ORU looked like the better team in every aspect of the game except shooting. Despite the fact that ORU was playing solid defense, crashing the boards, and getting good looks on offense, they couldn't seem to get any separation from the Thunderbirds of Southern Utah because they kept missing shots. Southern Utah, on the other hand, was making the most of their opportunities by shooting 52% in the first half.
Because my seat was so close to the ORU bench, I noticed a couple things about Scott Sutton that I found interesting and hadn't noticed in the other two ORU games I had watched this season. Scott is a real chip off the old block. He is a very serious and intense coach like his dad. Although he doesn't have the signature frown of Eddie, he never seemed to be happy and always looked serious despite the current performance of his team. Granted, his team was missing a lot of shots and probably should have been winning the game by double digits, but still you have to get excited about your team every once in awhile. The other thing I noticed was that Coach Sutton subbed players in and out quite a bit. It seemed like there were players coming in and out every other possession and it was clear from my vantage point that this was more the result of players making mistakes rather than keeping his guys fresh. It's hard to tell what kind of effect this had on his team, but it definitely seemed like it might have prevented some of his key players from getting in a rhythm, especially team leader Dominique Morrison and Steven Roundtree.
At the end of the half, the Golden Eagles managed to make enough shots to open up a 31-25 lead. The second half started out as second verse same as the first, as both teams were trying to work the ball inside with Southern Utah having the early success with four quick points from Senior center Matt Massey. The Golden Eagles continued their shooting woes and allowed the Thunderbirds to cut the lead to two at the under-16 timeout.
During the under 16 timeout, ORU invites all the kids in the arena to come down on to center court and dance to the classic Isley Brothers song "Shout" with Eli the Eagle and the spirit squads. During this event I noticed one young boy who couldn't have been older than 2 standing near his mother not doing much. Shortly after, Eli made his way over to the kid and crouched down to wave at him and give him a high five. The child's face instantly lit up and he was jumping and dancing for the rest of the time out. While this is a great fan experience it also seems a bit risky to have so many kids down on the court with players still moving about.
When the buzzer sounded to signal the end of the out, everyone quickly vacated the court in a pretty orderly fashion and players retook the floor. The next 5 minutes were marked by ORU sloppiness and a suddenly tight whistle from the officials that seemed to be favoring Thunderbirds as ORU quickly racked up fouls was held scoreless during this period. Needless to say, the home crowd was not too happy, including the public address announcer who seemed to be subtly reminding the refs of foul disparity by emphasizing statements such as, "Another foul for ORU" and "That was ORU's ninth team foul".
The frustration was definitely affecting ORU as they started playing sloppy, letting Southern Utah build an eight point lead capped by an "and 1" by Junior Jackson Stevenett which led to ORU senior leader Dominique Morrison fouling out. Whether ORU decided they needed to step up with their leader out of the game or his absence finally woke them up, it was at this point that the momentum shifted back to the Golden Eagles as they went on a surge and regained the lead on a power move inside by junior center Damen Bell-Holter. ORU sealed the victory with 24 seconds left when Roderick Pearson of ORU missed the front end of a one-and-one and Bell-Holter slid in to the lane, grabbed the board, put the ball back in, and drew the foul. He capped it off by making the free throw, and the 61-55 victory was sealed.
at ORAL ROBERTS 61, SOUTHERN UTAH 55 12/03/2011
SOUTHERN UTAH 4-4 (0-1) -- W. Collie 4-11 4-5 12; R. Jones Jr. 2-6 0-0 4; M. Massey 4-8 3-4 11; J. Stevenett 7-13 6-6 20; J. Johnson 0-1 0-0 0; R. Taylor 2-3 0-0 4; T. Koehler 2-2 0-0 4; J. Jeffery 0-1 0-0 0; C. Nsenki 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-45 13-15 55. ORAL ROBERTS 6-2 (1-0) -- W. Niles 1-5 2-2 4; S. Roundtree 3-6 0-0 6; R. Pearson Jr. 3-6 2-3 10; M. Craion 6-12 3-4 15; D. Bell-Holter 5-11 1-1 11; D. Morrison 3-11 2-2 8; M. Manghum 1-2 2-2 4; J. Lliteras 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 23-54 12-14 61.
Three-point goals: SUU 0-8 (M. Massey 0-2; J. Stevenett 0-1; R. Jones, Jr. 0-2; W. Collie 0-3), ORU 3-11 (R. Pearson 2-3; D. Morrison 0-3; W. Niles 0-3; M. Manghum 0-1; J. Lliteras 1-1); Rebounds: SUU 22 (M. Massey 5), ORU 28 (D. Bell-Holter 11); Assists: SUU 15 (R. Jones, Jr. 8), ORU 9 (M. Manghum 3); Total Fouls -- SUU 17, ORU 17; Fouled Out: SUU-None; ORU-D. Morrison.