TULSA, Okla. – Experience was at a premium for the Oral Roberts men's basketball team in 2017-18 with just two seniors and one junior on the roster and a first year head coach in Paul Mills. There were plenty of highlights during the season, but if nothing else, the Golden Eagles benefited from a year's worth of time on the court together as a team.
More than two thirds of ORU's points this year were scored by underclassmen, including 53 percent (1,247 of 2,332 points) coming from the sophomore class led by Emmanuel Nzekwesi's team-best 12.7 points per game.
Adjusting to a new leader and a new system was not an easy task for a team with seven combined years playing time in an ORU uniform that was still getting used to the college game, but Mills was impressed with the progress that his team made over the course of the season.
"I thought players started to understand the level of commitment and urgency that was needed in order to improve," said Mills. "As a player, you can never take opportunities for granted and also must recognize how limited time is when committing to something. Therefore, there is an amount of diligence and intensity that are necessary in order to grow as a player and person and I thought the players and staff better understood that as the season progressed."
ORU finished the year 11-21 with a 5-9 record in Summit League play, finishing in a tie for fifth in the standings. The Golden Eagles improved two spots from the preseason poll and were one of just two teams to finish higher than predicted, with Denver also improving to finish two spots above their projected finish.
ORU took its lumps early in the season, playing the seventh toughest nonconference schedule in the nation, but earned signature wins over Missouri State and on the road at Florida Gulf Coast, when both opponents were ranked top 15 in the mid-major poll.
At the end of the year, ORU had four players earn postseason honors from The Summit League, including a pair of specialty awards for each of the two seniors on the squad. Austin Ruder was named the league's Transfer of the Year while Albert Owens was tabbed as the Sixth Man of the Year. Additionally, sophomores Emmanuel Nzekwesi and Sam Kearns were recognized on the honorable mention All-Summit League and All-Newcomer teams, respectively.
2017-18 #ORUMBB Season Highlights
- The Golden Eagles finished sixth in the nation in offensive rebounds with 13.91 offensive boards per game.
- ORU was one of just nine teams this year to record three double-doubles in a game as Albert Owens (22/13), Emmanuel Nzekwesi (12/11) and Jontray Harris (10/12) did so against East Texas Baptist (11/23).
- ORU had four players average double figures in scoring for the season, the first time since 2010-11 to have that kind of offensive balance.
- Sophomores Javan White (9.0) and Emmanuel Nzekwesi (7.2) each averaged better than seven boards per game, marking the first time since 2009-10 in which ORU has had two players average at least seven rebounds per game. That year, Kevin Ford (7.5) and Michael Craion (7.3) were both above that mark.
Individual Player Highlights
- Austin Ruder hit a game-winning 3-pointer to beat North Dakota State (2/8/18) and the play was the number one play on ESPN's SportsCenter Top 10.
- R.J. Fuqua tied the school record with nine steals in his collegiate debut against Avila (11/10/17).
- Albert Owens finished his career with 159 career blocks, third in ORU history.
- Emmanuel Nzekwesi was a two-time Summit League Player of the Week, and also earned a spot on the All-Subregional team of the 2017 Legends Classic.
- Albert Owens finished his career with 1,318 points and 534 rebounds, making him the 16th player in ORU history to have at least 1,000 points and 500 rebounds.
- Javan White averaged 9.0 rebounds per game, the highest average since 2012-13 when Damen Bell-Holter grabbed 9.4 boards per game. His 3.53 offensive rebounds per game ranked 13th in the nation.
- Javan White grabbed 20 rebounds in ORU's win over Little Rock, the most rebounds in a game since Damen Bell-Holter grabbed 20 against Northwestern State on January 10, 2013.
- Kellen Manek hit nine free throws en route to a career high 11 points against Nebraska Christian (1/27/18). Hit total matched Nzekwesi for the most free throws made in a game by a Golden Eagle this season.
- Chris Miller stepped into a starting role in ORU's win over Missouri State and thrived right away. Miller scored a season high 18 points at Minnesota three games later.
- An All-Newcomer selection, Sam Kearns hit at least one 3-pointer in 31 straight games to end the season.
- Spencer Sutton scored his first collegiate points at Oklahoma State on the court that bears his grandfather's name.
- Emir Ahmedic sparked a rally against Montana in Malibu, scoring six points with two steals in six minutes of action.
"I am extremely excited about the future of ORU basketball," said Mills. "We didn't make many changes from the previous year's roster and focused our time on future recruiting classes and getting the current players better. I'm confident that we have done both and that will pay dividends down the road."
For the latest information on ORU basketball, follow @ORUMBB on Twitter or Instagram or go to www.ORUAthletics.com. Fans can also receive updates on the Golden Eagles by downloading the ORU Athletics Front Row App at ORUAthletics.com/frontrow or the ORU Golden Eagles Live App in iTunes or the Google Play Store.
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