INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor have pushed each other to greatness.
Oral Roberts’ star players room together on traditional road trips and have formed a bond through it, joking around and picking on each other like brothers.
It shows on the court. They have taken the NCAA Tournament by storm, leading 15th-seeded Oral Roberts to upset wins over No. 2 seed Ohio State and No. 7 seed Florida in the East Region. The Golden Eagles could keep defying the odds when they play No. 3 seed Arkansas on Saturday in the Sweet 16.
It starts with Abmas and Obanor.
"Abmas is just so difficult to keep in front of you,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “And then you add in his deep, long-range shot-making ability. Those two players in particular are playing as good as any combo teammates in the tournament.”
Abmas a 6-1, 165-pound sophomore guard, leads the nation in scoring with 24.5 points per game. But he loves it when Obanor gets cooking, and the 6-8, 225-pound junior forward has in fact led the Golden Eagles in scoring during the NCAA Tournament with 29 points per contest.
“Players make plays,” Abmas said. “And so for Kevin -- he’s a great player. I know how much work he puts in. That’s really for everybody, but I know Kev puts in a whole lot of work and so when the lights come on, he’s always going to shine. I always have the confidence in him to knock down big shots, make the big play.”
The two have set the tone for the rest of the team. The way Oral Roberts coach Paul Mills puts it: “If your best players are your hardest workers, you have a chance.”
Abmas, from Rockwall, Texas, only got offers from Oral Roberts, Army, Navy, Air Force and Marist. He said other schools showed interest but didn't follow up.
“I was talking to a lot of them, but none of them really offered like that," Abmas said. "But coach Springmann (ORU assistant coach Russell Springmann) and the staff here -- they just fell in love with (me) from day one and they showed a lot of love. They really wanted me to come in an have an impact on ORU basketball. And so that’s what I wanted to do at the end of the day was take the best fit for me and have an impact on the program.”
Obanor, from Houston, drew attention from Arkansas, Wake Forest, TCU, N.C. State and others.
And here they are, on basketball's biggest stage.
Abmas, dubbed “Midcourt Max” by some fans, introduced himself to Ohio State by hitting a 3-pointer from the logo that gave the Golden Eagles a 7-0 lead and he wound up with 18 points by halftime. Obanor took over with 20 points in the second half and overtime in Oral Roberts’ 75-72 win. The two scored 59 points between them.
It was a smiliar story in the second-round win over Florida. Abmas set the tone with 16 points in the first half while Obanor scored 20 in the second. In all, 57 points combined.
“Obanor has just got a unique ability to get it (his shot) off, to create a little space and get it off,” Florida coach Mike White said. “Abmas is just phenomenal with his speed, and you crowd him too much, and you want to take away that three, and it’s a layup or a drive-and-kick or a foul.”
Attention has followed the Golden Eagles, who are just the second 15 seed to reach the second weekend of the tournament after Florida Gulf Coast's Dunk City team. Mills noted the increase in media requests for his two stars and former mid-major star Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies has tweeted about Ambas.
He appreciates the attention, but wants his teammates to get credit. He's all about chemistry (Abmas happens to be majoring in biomedical chemistry).
“Throughout the season, I think a lot of the attention has been on me and Kevin,” he said. “I think the other guys in the locker room deserve a lot of credit, too, especially the way we’ve been playing lately. It’s a team effort. It’s not just a two-man game. There’s a lot more to it than where all the attention has been.”
The most important thing for Obanor is the wins.
“We have the opportunity to explore our game in a higher platform, and we are grateful to show up (in it)," he said. "Means a lot to me. But we’re not done yet. We’ve still got unfinished business.”
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: https://twitter.com/CliffBruntAP