The force was with Oral Roberts’ men Thursday night at the Mabee Center.
The Golden Eagles, celebrating their “Star Wars Night” before a crowd of spectators donning their favorite Star Wars-related attire while wielding faux lightsabers — and yes, even baby Yoda — defeated North Dakota 80-76 to move to 7-1 in conference play.
The ORU band’s rock rendition of John Williams’ “Duel of the Fates” complimented the back-and-forth duel between the Golden Eagles and the troublesome Hawks, who entered the match winless in the Summit League and 4-14 overall.
“You need to have the grit in order to win a basketball game,” ORU coach Paul Mills said, “and if you just come in and think things are gonna be easy and you don’t think the other team’s going to fight and you don’t respect your opponent, you’re gonna end up losing.
“It’s our guys’ job to continue to fight, and I thought they did,” Mills said.
With the game tied at 76 apiece, Max Abmas, the Golden Eagles’ leading scorer who had been held scoreless during the second half, connected on the go-ahead mid-range floater to put ORU ahead with 35 seconds remaining in regulation.
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The grappling between the conference foes started early as North Dakota opened the game with an 8-0 run, putting pressure on the Golden Eagles. Abmas, whose 23.1 points-per-game ranks third nationally, began to heat up en route to a 17-point first half.
A Trey Phipps and-one play following a contested drive to the rack put the Golden Eagles ahead 34-32 and, at least for the time being, open things up for ORU as the Golden Eagles entered halftime with a 39-32 advantage.
As Abmas slowed down in the second half, The Hawks’ offensive rebounding set a cycle of hard-earned baskets, frequently from DeShang Weaver, by ORU followed by offensive rebounds returned by North Dakota, who answered any multi-possession lead accrued by Weaver and the Golden Eagles.
A personal 6-0 run by Issac McBride, who manufactured two consecutive and-one plays midway through the second half, gave ORU breathing room with a 10-point lead, but the Hawks refused to go down.
North Dakota produced the last tie of the evening on its possession that proceeded Abmas’s go-ahead shot, when Ethan Igbanugo battled for a short-range field goal to make it 76 all.
“I think this kind of game pays dividends way down the road, because it lets your guys know, Max is gonna have an off-night, and we can still find a way to pull out the game,” Mills said.
Abmas led all scorers with 19 points. Weaver scored 13 in the second half to finish with 15, and Kareem Thompson, who Mills commended as being one of the Golden Eagles’ most productive two-way player, had 15, as well. McBride’s second-half spark helped him to an 11-point night that included the last pair of free throws from North Dakota’s desperation foul, followed by Phipps’ 10.
ORU and North Dakota State will tip off at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“We know that we’re gonna have to come in and play a lot better than we did tonight,” Abmas said, “and be locked in from the jump, play the whole 40 minutes and not go in spurts.”
ORU 80, NORTH DAKOTA 76
NORTH DAKOTA (4-15): Danielson 3-4 0-0 6, Tsartsidze 3-12 0-0 6, Bruns 8-20 0-0 18, Norman 4-13 0-0 11, Panoam 3-9 0-0 8, Igbanugo 6-10 3-5 17, Nero 3-8 0-0 8, Mathews 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 31-77 3-5 76.
ORAL ROBERTS (13-6): Lacis 2-3 0-0 4, Weaver 7-11 0-0 15, Abmas 8-21 0-1 19, Jurgens 1-4 2-3 4, Thompson 6-9 3-3 15, Phipps 4-7 1-1 11, McBride 3-8 4-4 10, Plet 0-1 0-0 0, Herron 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 32-65 10-12 80.
Halftime: Oral Roberts 39-32. 3-point goals: North Dakota 11-39 (Norman 3-11, Igbanugo 2-5, Nero 2-6, Panoam 2-8, Bruns 2-9), Oral Roberts 6-16 (Abmas 3-8, Phipps 2-3, Weaver 1-3, Jurgens 0-1, Lacis 0-1). Rebounds: North Dakota 40 (Danielson 11), Oral Roberts 32 (Thompson 11). Assists: North Dakota 12 (Danielson 5), Oral Roberts 10 (Jurgens 3). Total fouls: North Dakota 18, Oral Roberts 12. A: 3,819 (11,300).