The Stanford Cardinal came into Wednesday night's Cancun Challenge game versus the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles knowing that they were facing a stiff challenge from the representative of the Summit League, a team which has tasted success throughout most of the past decade. The home team needed to come out strong as it did against Cal Poly on Sunday evening and that's exactly the opposite of what happened as the Golden Eagles opened up an early 14-point advantage before Stanford stormed back to tie it at the half. Both teams elevated their play, giving the fans a basketball treat, but the last shot attempted was the final nail in the coffin for Stanford as Oral Roberts' guard Roderick Pearson hit a heartbreaking, buzzer-beating shot to propel the Golden Eagles to an 83-81 win over the host Cardinal.
Neither team got off to a particularly good start as both teams traded open misses, but Oral Roberts started to attack inside while the Cardinal's big men, including Andrew Zimmerman and Jack Trotter opted for long shots from the perimeter, leading to a Golden Eagles 6-2 advantage five minutes into the contest. The ORU defense continued to give Stanford fits after the media timeout, getting a three-point play off a steal and two long three-pointers after a couple of long Cardinal misses to extend their lead to 17-4 with 11:43 remaining in the first half.
Stanford would come out of the next media break with some renewed focus on the defensive end which paid immediate dividends as Landry Fields had a "dine and dash" to the basket after feasting on a open court steal, cutting the Golden Eagles' lead to 17-8. However, Oral Roberts turned up their defensive pressure as well, leading to another takeaway and fast break layup for the visitors, concluding a quick 6-1 run that pushed their lead to 14, 23-9, before head coach Johnny Dawkins called a 30-second timeout in an attempt to calm down his troops.
Unfortunately, another empty possession came to pass after the stoppage, but an open three-pointer drained by Fields gave the faithful reason to cheer as his deep shot cut the lead back to 11, 25-14, with 7:48 left in the first half. Drew Shiller finally would get on the board, hitting a right corner three-ball, but ORU continued to make their shots, keeping Stanford at bay for the time being. The defensive output was then raised to an even higher level by the home team, forcing a series of bad shots and turnovers from the visitors from Tulsa. Three-pointers by Fields and Jeremy Green, then an offensive rebound off some confusion led to a Jarrett Mann-to-Fields connection for an easy two, bringing Stanford all the way back to a 31-31 tie with 2:54 remaining in the opening stanza. Both teams settled in for the remainder of the half, trading two shots made each to end the opening 20 minutes in a 35-35 tie.
At the half, Stanford was shooting 43% from the field (after a very rough start), including 33% from outside, but did make a nifty seven of their eight free throw attempts. Oral Roberts finished the half at an even 50% overall, made two of their seven three-point attempts, and was a perfect three-for-three from the charity stripe. The Golden Eagles held a big rebounding advantage, 20-12, allowing the Cardinal just one offensive rebound.
Stanford was led by Fields' 14 points on 5-9 shooting, followed by Green with seven and Shiller's five. Damen Bell-Halter led the way for Oral Roberts off the bench, netting 10 points in 10 minutes of play. He was followed by Dominique Morrison who tallied seven for the Golden Eagles.
The second half started off with both teams out with their guns blazing as each was hitting shots from inside and outside with regularity. Before the first media timeout horn had blasted out over the half-filled Maples Pavilion, Oral Roberts and Stanford had put up 26 points between the two programs, with the Golden Eagles outscoring the Cardinal 14-12 over the first 4:01 of the period. Both teams came out of the break a little more subdued, slowing down the pace a bit on both ends of the court, before Oral Roberts got five straight to extend a lead to seven with just under 14 minutes left in the game.
Fields came back on the next possession to hit a three-pointer from the right wing to nearly cut the margin in half, but a close blocking foul call on Trotter seemed to deflate the Cardinal as ORU got the lead back up to eight, before a Green right-side three-pointer cut the lead to 57-52 as the two squads headed to their respective benches at the media stoppage. Stanford continued to chip away at the lead, using a mix of defenses, free throws, and secondary transition buckets to climb all the way back. Two free throws by Green concluded a 10-0 Stanford run, giving the Cardinal a 59-57 lead with just over eight minutes left. After trading a basket and a free throw for a pair of freebies of their own, Stanford came out of the second-to-last media timeout with a one-point lead.
The game quickly turned into a battle as both teams attempted to land knockout blows to the other. Another dose of mixing up defenses and hitting some, but not all, free throws knotted the game up at 66 with 5:39 left in the game. Fields then faked a three-pointer and found a wide open Zimmerman for an easy deuce. With the shot clock winding down for the Golden Eagles against a funky looking zone from Stanford, Morrison drained a three-pointer to put ORU back up one, 69-68. After a Zimmerman free throw, Green hit a tremendous three-pointer from the top of the key to give Stanford a 72-69 lead before the last media timeout.
Coming out of their last break, both teams put on a show for the Maples Pavilion crowd, making big shot after big shot. Stanford managed to snare a five-point lead with 1:52 left after Green hit a right-wing three pointer. Oral Roberts, though, would not go quietly into the night as Morrison used his body to create some space and make a three-pointer of his own with 90 seconds left in the game. Green tried to counter that with a long shot of his own early in the shot clock, but his try was off the mark. Morrison came back with his own jumper that was good to tie up the score at 77-77.
Coming out of a timeout, Stanford drew up a play for Fields, but he missed from the right baseline, giving ORU an opportunity to take back the lead they had held for most of the game. Morrison came of his team's last timeout to hit a jump shot in the lane with 19 ticks left on the clock to get the lead back for the visitors. A great look by Fields to Trotter got the big man to the line as he was fouled while attempting a dunk with 10 seconds left. However, Trotter was short on the first free throw, leaving Stanford down one after making the second. Michael Craion hit two free throws with 9.4 seconds left and Oral Roberts decided to foul Mann as he was coming up the court to prevent the tying three. Mann made the first, but intentionally missed the second. Somehow, he found the ball easily off the miss and called Stanford's last timeout. Mann found Fields who came from the perimeter streaking to the basket for the easy lay-in with five seconds left. Unfortunately, this left too much time on the clock as Pearson went nearly the length of the court to make a running, one-handed jumper from about 15 feet to win it at the buzzer.
After the game, Dawkins seemed disappointed, but optimistic, when it came to the team's future after this tough loss, saying that "we'll only get better" as games like this are "part of the a process for us."
For the contest, Stanford's shot 48% of their shots from the floor, including 38% from outside. The Cardinal also made 21 out of 30 (70%) from the free throw line, but seemed to miss at the most inopportune times in the second half. Oral Roberts' shooting finished the game making 49% of their attempts overall, hitting 33% of their long balls, and shot 83% from the charity stripe. The Golden Eagles dominated on the boards, outrebounding Stanford 38-28 (9-3 on the offensive end) and netting 12 second chance points to Stanford's six. The Cardinal did have a better assist-to-turnover margin, dishing out 17 assists to Oral Roberts' 13, but only turned the ball over eight times while the Golden Eagles tallied 14 giveaways.
Stanford was led by Fields who had a career high 28 points on 10-19 shooting, along with six rebounds and five assists. He was followed by Green (who proclaimed himself at 80-85% after the contest) who scored 20 off the pine and 11 by Mann who was forced into extended play due to Da'Veed Dildy battling a case of plantar fasciitis and was unable to play much during the evening. Morrison led Oral Roberts with 31 points on 13-19 shooting (Fields after the game was incensed with his own defense against ORU's leading scorer) and also had a team high nine rebounds for the Golden Eagles. Craion was next in line with 13 points, while bench star Bell-Holter finished the game with 12 points.
The Stanford Cardinal will look to rebound from the hard loss on Saturday afternoon at 1:00pm as they take on the Florida A&M Rattlers at Maples Pavilion in their second game on US soil as part of the Cancun Challenge.
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