Nearly one year ago to the day, Oral Roberts strolled into Kansas' Allen Field House and upset the No. 3 Jayhawks, 78-71. The Golden Eagles are hoping that history repeats itself 363 days later against No.15 Texas A&M.
The good news for the Golden Eagles is that they've got three returning starters from last year's squad and a starting lineup that boasts four seniors and one junior who were part of the upset at Kansas and have led Oral Roberts to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two years. That starting five won't be intimidated by the Aggies' Sweet 16 banner from a year ago.
"They remind me a lot of the way we were at Wichita, we weren't afraid to go into places to play" said A&M head coach Mark Turgeon. "I'm sure they've had this one circled for a while, but we'll be ready, we're excited about the game too."
One of those seniors, point guard Adam Liberty may have a little extra motivation as well after playing his first two seasons at Wichita State under Turgeon. Liberty started in all 32 games at point guard during his sophomore season at Wichita State and led the Shockers to a 22-10 overall record and a quarterfinal appearance in the NIT.
Last year, the speedy athlete with a solid mid-range shot and outstanding speed in the open court averaged 6.8 points and 2.9 assists per game and started all 34 contests.
The bad news for Oral Roberts is that they lost three-time Mid-Continent Conference Player of the Year Caleb Green and three-time all-conference guard Ken Tutt from last year's team.
Making matters worse for the Golden Eagles, the Aggies seemed to take their play to a higher level in the second half against McNeese last Friday, allowing just 35 points in the final 36 minutes of play. A&M also seemed to be getting a better grip on the new motion offense that Turgeon brought with him from Wichita State, going on a 24-6 run to close out the first half.
If A&M can continue to play the way they did in the final 30 minutes against McNeese, it could be a long night for ORU.
"By no means are we executing offensively the way we're going to as time goes on but if we can defense like we did the last 35 minutes of that game for 40 minutes, our defense can cover us up for a while," Turgeon said. We've come a long way in practice the last few days, and offensively, our guys are starting to understand it. We showed signs against McNeese State at times that we knew what we were doing and some guys are starting to step up and make some shots too, which helps.
"There's so many little things we're not doing right but we see in practice that those little things continue to get better. It's going to come together. I was hoping it would come together sooner, but hopefully it will come together (against Oral Roberts). When it does, we're going to be fun to watch."
Thanks to Turgeon's generosity, Texas A&M students will have a chance to watch the Aggies this week.
Because the NIT tournament is an NCAA event, the student sports pass is not valid for entry.
Turgeon wanted to make sure that students had a chance to attend, and paid $10,000 out of his own pocket.
"I don't think students should ever pay for a sporting event, they pay enough to go to school and I think our players should play in front of their classmates," he said. "I want our student section to be full every night and this is my way to let them know how important they are to us."
In addition to A&M, the three other regional preseason NIT hosts are Syracuse, Washington and Ohio State.
The Aggies have never hosted a preseason NIT regional and have not played in the NIT Season Tip-Off (formerly known as the Preseason NIT) since the tournament started in 1985, and. Shelby Metcalf's Aggies lost in the first round that year to Alabama-Birmingham at the Summit in Houston regional.
In addition to A&M, which is the only ranked team in the 16-team field, Syracuse, Washington and Ohio State will also serve as preseason NIT hosts hoping to make it to next week's semi-finals at Madison Square Garden in New York.
GOLDEN EAGLES PROJECTED STARTERS:
10 Robert Jarvis, G, 5-11, 185, JR - Great athlete with big-time scoring ability. He's not very tall but he's extremely strong and quick. Tied for the team lead in the season opener with 19 points.
11 Adam Liberty, G, 6-2, 180, SR - He's a speedy guard with a great mid-range jumper and decent from three-point range. He's a fifth year senior who played his first two years under Turgeon.
13 Moses Ehambe, F, 6-6, 215, SR - 43 percent three-point shooter who averaged 7.6 points per game last year. He scored 19 points in the season opener.
3 Yemi Ogunoye F, 6-9, 215, SR - Excellent defensive player with an enormous wingspan. He posted 18 blocked shots last year playing defense against teams' top perimeter shooter.
33 Shawn King C, 6-10, 220, SR - Averaged 7.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in less than 20 minutes per game last season and is one of the nation's top shot blockers (81 last year). He scored a team-high 20 points in the season opener for the Golden Eagles.
• When Mark Turgeon took the A&M job last spring, Oral Roberts head coach Scott Sutton, son of legendary coach Eddie Sutton and brother of Sean Sutton, was pursued by Wichita State and ultimately turned down the Shockers and signed a 7-year contract at ORU.
• Sutton is 2-0 against Turgeon, with both wins coming against Turgeon's Wichita State squads.
• A&M has won 35 straight regular-season non-conference home games sine an 82-80 loss to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, which the Aggies could face on Wednesday night if the Islanders are able to knock off UT-El Paso in the other first round match up at Reed Arena tonight.
A&M "Tips-Off" NIT against Oral Roberts
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