Oral Roberts Downing OSU Is Everything We Missed About March Madness Magic

Abbey MastraccoContributor IMarch 20, 2021

Oral Roberts players celebrate after beating Ohio State in a first-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Friday, March 19, 2021, at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
Robert Franklin/Associated Press

Even if you're not a basketball fan, there is still something so intriguing about the NCAA tournament. It's a magical month of chaos, unpredictability, announcer catch phrases and mascots. 

For one month every year, the spotlight is fixed on college basketball and other sports don't even try to share it. 

It's been difficult to figure out where college sports fit into the grand scheme of things over the last year, but it became a bit easier when seeing No. 15 Oral Roberts upset No. 2 Ohio State early in the first full day of games. 

There was some understandable ambivalence from fans and students as the men's tournament kicked off. It lacked the buzz of years past. 

Other sports returned and made their presence felt through bubble tournaments and social justice reform, but college basketball flew under the radar. There were no students in the stands and programs went through numerous stops and starts as they dealt with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

There was nothing magic about March 2020. There was madness; oh was there ever madness. But life as we knew it came to a screeching halt when the coronavirus became a global pandemic and we are still struggling to find some normalcy a year later. 

This tournament is anything but normal. There are no cheerleaders or marching bands. This year's contest is being played in a bubble in Indiana. And keeping with the theme of the last 12 months, there are players pushing for reform. 

Players who are unhappy with how the governing body is expected to make $900 million while all they get is a swag bag and a boxed lunch. The night before the 2021 iteration of the Big Dance began the hashtag #NotNCAAProperty began trending thanks to Geo Baker of Rutgers, Isaiah Livers of Michigan and Jordan Bohannon of Iowa. Players from more than a dozen teams and players from other levels of NCAA competition called for name, image and likeness reform. 

The argument is simple. We deserve an opportunity to create money from our name, image, and likeness. If you don't agree with that statement, then you are saying that you believe that I, a human being, should be owned by something else. #NotNCAAProperty pic.twitter.com/BOehxsjruE

— Geo Baker (@Geo_Baker_1) March 18, 2021

And then there is the issue of the grossly uneven conditions of the men's and women's tournament bubbles. The conditions in San Antonio are so bad that Friday, the NCAA's committee on women's athletics asked NCAA president Mark Emmert for an investigation, saying it undermines Title IX protections. 

The social reform and political unrest surrounding the Big Dance will persist as we consume the nostalgic excitement the tournament also offers.

That excitement was on display when Colgate, the No. 14 seed in the South Region, took a first-half lead against No. 3 Arkansas. The Razorbacks eventually prevailed, saving a few brackets from going bust early. No sooner than Arkansas advanced, however, another little guy with a double-digit seed took a powerhouse program into overtime. 

Oral Roberts, a tiny school in Tulsa, Oklahoma and the No. 15 seed in the South Region, was supposed to be the first stepping stone on Ohio State's quest to a title. Instead, they became the ninth No. 15 seed in history to knock off a No. 2 seed, and the first team Middle Tennessee State in 2016 (defeated Michigan State). The Golden Eagles won their first NCAA tournament game since 1974 in thrilling fashion Friday afternoon with a 75-72 overtime victory at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana. 

Robert Franklin/Associated Press

The Buckeyes made only five of the 23 three-pointers they attempted. They missed half of their free throws. They turned the ball over 16 times. 

"We're top 25 in the country at not turning it over, and Ohio State is 336th in the country at causing turnovers. So we knew that we were coming into a game where there wasn't going to be a whole lot of pressure," Oral Roberts coach Paul Mills said in his postgame Zoom press conference. "We do a good job taking care of the ball. That's not their strength. They do a number of things really, really well, obviously, but their strength isn't that they're going to pressure you."

You may not have known Mills' name before Friday, or the name of the former Baylor assistant's star guard, Max Abmas. But all of basketball knows their names now. 

The point guard dropped 29 points on the Buckeyes. He was the leading scorer in Division I prior to the game, so Ohio State knew he would be difficult to contain, but Big Ten teams are expected to contain mid-major conference opponents in the first round. Abmas also grabbed five rebounds, dished three assists and played all 45 minutes of the game. 

Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young called Abmas "a problem."

Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann agreed. His sophomore guard CJ Walker had the unfortunate task of guarding him. 

"It was a tough matchup for him defensively because of how we had the switch," Holtmann said in his postgame Zoom press conference. "It was a tough matchup for us, tough matchup for him. He had to expend a lot of energy at the other end. They're really good, and their two players are really good in those pick-and-roll spots."

Kevin Obanor had a double-double with 30 points and 11 rebounds. He also played 45 minutes for the Golden Eagles. 

Robert Franklin/Associated Press

The celebration on the court was more subdued than it was in living rooms across America. Who doesn't love a good upset in March? Maybe not the legion of Ohio State fans, but they have their prosperity. And Oral Roberts played like it has some too, But the team is more focused on the next game against No. 7 Florida than celebrating its historic victory. 

"I thought we would win. I mean, our guys thought we would win," Mills said. "The reality is, you have to turn around and you're about to play another one. So a celebration better be pretty quick because, if you spend all your time looking back at your marriage day videos, you're probably not going to have a very good marriage. There's other things to get done."

A little while later, No 12 Oregon State eliminated No 5. Tennessee in the Midwest Region. The surprise winners of the Pac-12 Conference tournament won their first NCAA tournament game since 1982. Elsewhere in the same bracket, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the 101-year-old nun that serves as an unofficial mascot of sorts for Loyola-Chicago, was able to attend the No. 8 Ramblers' win over No. 9 Georgia Tech. 

In the nightcap, No. 13 North Texas won their first NCAA tournament game, downing No. 4 Purdue in overtime.

These all served as reminders of why we love sports, why it's so easy to become invested in a tournament full of unknown college kids and why the men's and women's tournaments feel so special. 

Maybe this year we aren't watching the tournament in sports bars or spending hours watching games from sports books in casinos, and students aren't planning caravans to follow their classmates around the country on their hopeful journeys to the Final Four. But if you weren't feeling the nostalgia before Friday's slate of games, you likely are now. 

March Madness, we missed you, and there's nothing like that first big upset of the year to remind us of what we missed.