The top-seeded Oral Roberts Golden Eagles defended their hometown and advanced to the Mid-Continent Conference Championship Game with a 77-58 win over Valpo Monday night at John Q. Hammons Arena in Tulsa, Okla. The loss concludes the Crusaders' 2005-06 season.
The Brown and Gold started the game strong, forcing a pair of Golden Eagle turnovers in the first three minutes and opening a 7-0 lead when Jimmie Miles
(Country Club Hills, Ill./Rich Central) drained a three-pointer from the corner. But Oral Roberts answered right back on back-to-back triples from Ken Tutt and Larry Owens, and took a five point lead minutes later when Owens converted a three-point play in transition.
Unfortunately, that was only the start of a big Golden Eagle run. Ken Tutt capped a 20-4 spurt with an 18-footer that put the hosts up 28-14 with 7:46 left in the first half. Oral Roberts remained up double-figures much of the rest of the period, before the Crusaders found a little burst of their own.
Freshman Brandon McPherson
(Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) threw in two driving layups, and the Golden Eagle lead was down to four, 32-28, with 1:45 remaining. The Crusaders went into the locker room back only five, 35-30, closing the half on a 16-7 run.
(Lyon, France/Jean Paul Sartre) led Valpo with nine points and six boards in the first half, while Dan Oppland
(Saint Louis, Mo./Whitfield) added eight. The Crusaders were within five despite shooting only 40.0% and turning it over eight times. Oral Roberts was on fire from the floor, shooting 51.7% and knocking down 3-of-5 three-pointers despite several late misses, but turned were dominated on the glass, surrendering nine offensive rebounds for Valpo, leading to 10 second chance points.
The teams went back-and-forth early in the second half, with the Crusaders twice getting within four, but unable to shrink the lead further. By the midway point of the second half, Oral Roberts had chipped the lead back up to 11 on a three-point play from Green.
The Golden Eagle lead would get as big as 16 points in the final ten minutes of the game, and when Jonathan Bluitt drained a contested three-pointer from the left wing with 6:30 left, the Crusaders' fate was sealed.
Kone and Oppland, two of Valpo's six seniors, led the way for the Brown and Gold with 18 points apiece. Kone also pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds, posting his seventh double-double of the season. As for Oppland, the Saint Louis native ends is career with 1,780 points, third most in Crusader history, and 782 rebounds, also third all-time at Valpo.
The Crusaders shot 38.2% from the floor and made only 2-of-18 three-pointers on the night. But perhaps the biggest factor was in turnovers, where Oral Roberts converted 16 turnovers into 26 points, while Valpo scored only two points off eight Golden Eagle giveaways.
Green led Oral Roberts (20-11) with 23 points, one of four players in double-figures for the victors. ORU shot 50.8% from the field and won despite being out-rebounded 38-29. The Golden Eagles will face the winner of Monday's IUPUI-Chicago State game at 6:00 p.m. to determine the conference champion and earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Crusaders (17-12) end the season over .500 for the 15th time in the last 16 years. Monday marked the final Valpo game for seniors Oppland, Kone, Ron Howard
(Chicago, Ill./Whitney Young), Seth Colclasure
(Decatur, Ind./Bellmont), Ali Berdiel
(Ponce, Puerto Rico/Andrean) and Jim Hooper
(San Diego, Calif./Lutheran). All six played in Monday's game.