Oral Roberts men's basketball rolls into S.D. undefeated, looking to dominate Summit League

The Golden Eagles are 16-0 and visit USD on Thursday and SDSU on Saturday for the final games of the regular season.

Oral Roberts’ Max Abmas cheers during their men's basketball game against North Dakota State on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, in Fargo.
Michael Vosburg/Forum Communications Co.

SIOUX FALLS — Last year South Dakota State became the first men's basketball team in Summit League history to run the table and go undefeated in conference play.

That record is poised to last all of one season.

Oral Roberts is two wins away from equaling the Jackrabbits' feat from last year, and they've done so in equally impressive fashion. The Golden Eagles, who reached the Sweet 16 two years ago, are 16-0 in Summit League games and 25-4 overall. All that's left for them to complete the undefeated conference season is two wins in South Dakota. The Eagles take on the slumping USD Coyotes on Thursday, then close out the regular season with a showdown with the Jacks on Saturday at Frost Arena.

After a slow start, SDSU has won six in a row, but more importantly, the Jackrabbits are 76-3 at home over the last six seasons. If ORU is going to finish with an 18-0 slate, they're going to have to earn it the hard way.

And both USD and SDSU have motivation beyond ending ORU's run at perfection. The Golden Eagles absolutely destroyed each of them in the prior meetings in Tulsa. SDSU opened conference play with a trip to the Mabee Center and were drilled 79-40, one of the worst Summit League losses in Jackrabbit history.


A month later, ORU beat USD even worse, a 103-53 drubbing in a rescheduled game in which, to be fair, the Coyotes were dead tired. But a 50-point loss hurts no matter the circumstances.

Now the Coyotes (11-17, 6-10) get the Eagles while in the midst of a four-game losing streak. A season that began with promise is slipping away, and they're running out of time to get back on track before the conference tournament.

"We're not playing very well, anybody can see that," said USD coach Eric Peterson. "So there's some things you've got to mix up and change. There's a chance you'll see a different lineup against Oral Roberts and some different guys play. We'll probably do some things different defensively as well. We just have to find things we can do to have success with that can potentially carry over to the conference tournament."

As for the Jackrabbits (17-11, 12-4), they host Kansas City on Thursday, and coach Eric Henderson seemed wary of his team looking past the Kangaroos and ahead to the rematch with ORU. He also acknowledged that no matter what happens on Saturday it's important not to overreact to it, and he doesn't expect his team will. If SDSU wins, it doesn't suddenly mean the Eagles are no longer the favorite in the tournament (they are). If SDSU loses, it doesn't mean ORU is unbeatable (they aren't).

"Whether we win or lose Thursday or Saturday, I have great confidence in our group that we believe we can win the Summit League tournament in two weeks," Henderson said. "I don't think the outcome will really change our mindset or our confidence."

The Eagles have had some close calls. They won by just three at Omaha, by three at home to Kansas City and last week by three at home against a North Dakota team at the bottom of the league.

Similar to last year's Jackrabbits, ORU is one of the best offensive teams in the nation, averaging 84.7 points per game, with all-everything guard Max Abmas leading the way. The two-time Summit League MVP averages 22.3 points per game and has hit 104 3-pointers in 28 games.

But a big addition this year has been 7-foot-5 center Connor Vanover, who averages 12.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game. He's unlike any center the Summit has seen before, and the former Arkansas Razorback has benefitted from playing alongside Abmas, who remains the Eagles' main character. Henderson said Abmas is on par with Mike Daum, Baylor Scheierman and former Fort Wayne guard John Konchar as the best Summit Leaguers he's seen.


"He's up there — he really is," Henderson said. "There's been some great players, but Max affects the game in so many ways and makes everyone around him so much better. There has to be so much attention brought to him, and that's what makes it a challenge."

Matt Zimmer is a Sioux Falls native and longtime sports writer. He graduated from Washington High School where he played football, legion baseball and developed his lifelong love of the Minnesota Twins and Vikings. After graduating from St. Cloud State University, he returned to Sioux Falls, began a long career in amateur baseball and started working as a sports freelancer. Zimmer was hired as a sport reporter at the Argus Leader in 2004, where he covered Sioux Falls high schools and colleges before moving to the South Dakota State University beat in 2014.
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