Oral Roberts rides 11-game win streak
Golden Eagles are streaking under the radar behind Morrison
TULSA, Okla. -- Wearing all white from their T-shirts to their face paint, the student section belts out a chant to back up the players at Oral Roberts: "I believe that we will win."
Lately, the Golden Eagles are giving them plenty of reasons.
Behind high-scoring forward Dominique Morrison and a veteran supporting cast, ORU (18-4, 10-0 Summit League) has won 11 consecutive games to put itself in an unusual position. In a conference where NCAA tournament berths usually hinge on a single game in March, the Golden Eagles are making a case for at-large consideration.
"I think there’s a lot of mid-major teams that get overlooked," 13th-year head coach Scott Sutton said. "They think, 'Well, they play in the Summit or they play in the Colonial' or whatever. This team is very good.
"You make some of these teams come in here and play us, we’re going to have a chance to beat them, and I think you can say that about a ton of mid-major teams."
Oral Roberts, which has 10 wins against BCS conference teams over the past decade, already scored an upset of then-No. 8 Xavier on Dec. 18 when the Musketeers had three players suspended because of a brawl against Cincinnati.
A season that started with the loss of backup point guard Ken Holdman to a season-ending injury and a buzzer-beater loss in the second game against Texas-San Antonio started to turn around against Arkansas-Little Rock on Dec. 12. Damen Bell-Holter capped a comeback from a 10-point second-half deficit by hitting a buzzer-beater from three-quarters court for a 58-55 victory.
Those two wins, along with another against Texas Tech, catapulted the Golden Eagles into conference play on a high and they haven’t come down since. They swept the regular-season series with two-time defending conference champion Oakland with a 93-86 victory Saturday night, and they’ve already beaten every other Summit League opponent once.
The current roll has the Golden Eagles thinking about running the table in conference play and possibly getting a good enough seed in the NCAA tournament to do some damage.
"We don’t want to lose a regular-season game, so probably -- hopefully -- if we did slip up in the conference tournament, we would probably get a shot at going to the NCAA tournament," said Warren Niles, who hit a career-best seven 3-pointers and scored 28 points in the win against Oakland.
"We want to win games from here on out. We don’t want to lose any, because we’re capable of winning all the games we’ve got from here on out."
Leading the way is Morrison -- or "DoMo" as ORU faithful know him. He’s among the top 15 in the nation in scoring, averaging 20.3 points per game, with a versatile game that has developed since he came to college without many tools other than straight-line drives to the basket. Now, he can post up or hit a 3-pointer just as effectively.
"I think he’s one of the best players that I think very few people nationally really know about, know how good he is," Sutton said. "I’m telling you, he’s one of the best scorers I’ve ever coached."
Morrison admits there were plenty of holes in his game when he arrived from Raytown High School in suburban Kansas City, Mo. Over time, he has worked to fill them with help from critiques by his father watching back at home.
"My mom says he just rewinds, rewinds, rewinds," Morrison said. Then, he’ll pass along suggestions to his son, who has developed his own habit of closely analyzing every aspect of his play with his coaches.
"I just think I’ve made progressions in my game every year," Morrison said. "I’ve worked hard over the summer, the fall and even during the season. I watch the games over and over and over, just to look at the things that I could have done better."
All around him are a group of veterans who’ve grown up together in the program. All five starters are back from last season’s team and another, Michael Craion, is healthy again after missing all but two games last season with a broken foot that wouldn’t heal.
"We have basically six starters this year, with Mike coming back," Niles said.
All of them are hungry to return the program to where it stood when they were attracted to play there. ORU won three consecutive Summit League titles, and the accompanying NCAA tournament berths, as the current group of players were arriving on campus. The Golden Eagles haven’t been back in three years since, and it’s the last chance for Morrison, Craion and point guard Roderick Pearson.
"Nobody wants to walk out their senior year like, 'Man, I never went to the NCAA tournament.' That’s everybody, no matter what school you go to," Morrison said. "That’s just a big goal of ours. We’ve got to keep working and I think we’ll get there."
The 11-game streak matches the longest under Sutton. The program has had only three longer streaks as an NCAA member during the course of a single season, and just one longer than 14 games -- a run of 21 in a row in the 1971-72 season.
It has all come in Oral Roberts’ final season in the Summit League before a move to the Southland Conference, and Sutton’s first with brother Sean Sutton -- the former Oklahoma State coach -- as a full-time assistant. Sean served as an adviser last season, after going through a rehab program to break his addiction to prescription drugs.
"It has been so rewarding, so much fun," Scott Sutton said. "I’m so proud of what he’s been able to overcome and for him to be a part of this."
In the middle of the success, Scott Sutton said he wants his players and fans to embrace and enjoy a special run instead of shying away from the possibilities.
"I want our guys to think about it, use it as motivation," Sutton said. "Not only a possible at-large but seeding. You sneak up and get a 12-seed or maybe 11-seed, your chances of winning a game are greatly enhanced."