TULSA, Okla.-A 15-point lead was cut down to one but ORU never gave up its second half lead as they beat Akron 67-61, Saturday afternoon on senior day at the Mabee Center. The game was part of the Sears ESPN BracketBusters series.
With the victory, ORU moved to 25-5 on the season (16-1 Summit League), and finished the regular season undefeated at home, moving the home winning streak to 23 games. Akron had its eight-game winning streak snapped, falling to 19-8 with the loss. Dominique Morrison finished the game with a team-high 16 points and had a season-high 12 rebounds, one off his career high, scoring the 2,000th point of his career and extending his double-figure scoring streak to 22 games.
"First of all that was a great win," said Coach Scott Sutton. "We beat a very good basketball team. They are a well coached team and very tough. That's an NCAA tournament team. It felt like a conference tournament game and the winner would go to the tournament. I'm proud of our guys. Akron has been terrific in the second half, I knew they would make a run on us and they did. Our guys were a little taken aback with how physical it was in the second half, but we regrouped and finished the game. This team continues to impress me and continues to amaze me."
ORU finished the regular season undefeated inside the Mabee Center (15-0), marking just the second time in the history of the facility that ORU has gone through a home schedule unblemished. The 23-game winning streak at home ties the longest in ORU history, doing so from February 25, 1989-December 1, 1991, most of which came while ORU was an NAIA program. ORU has also won 25 games for the first time since going 25-8 to finish the 2004-05 season and only twice has won more than 25 games in a season as a Division I team.
Going against one of the nation's best shot blockers in Zeke Marshall, Damen Bell-Holter held his own, scoring 15 points and grabbing six rebounds, while holding Marshall to 4 points and just one rebound. Marshall did have three blocks in the game. Warren Niles scored 12 points, while Michael Craion added nine and Steven Roundtree had eight.
Brian Walsh led the Zips with 13 points, while Nikola Cvetinovic had 11 and was one of three players with four rebounds as the Golden Eagles had a 41-26 advantage on the boards. Neither team shot the ball well from 3-point range, with ORU going 2-for-11 (18.2 percent) and Akron hitting just five of 22 attempts (22.7 percent).
Behind seven quick points by Niles, three blocks and two charge calls on the defensive end, ORU took a 16-8 lead early in the game after a 9-2 run. The lead would get to as many as 15 at 28-13 before a 9-0 Akron run made it 28-22.
ORU scored the last five points going into the locker room and took an 11-point lead, 33-22, as Morrison got the 2,000th point of his career with a floater at the buzzer.
With a couple of steals that turned into easy baskets on the other end, Akron got right back into the game as they scored seven of the first eight points of the second half to make it a 34-29 game. Craion and Niles scored five-straight for ORU to push it back to a 10-point lead for the time being.
The Zips used another 15-5 run to close the margin to just a point midway through the second half as Akron made their way into the bonus for the remainder of the game. A couple of times Akron cut the lead to as little as one and had possession of the ball but ORU was able to hold them off using a 10-2 run of its own, getting four straight by Morrison including a floater over Marshall, to go back up nine, 60-51.
Akron certainly didn't concede the game, as a pull-up 3-pointer by Abreu made it a four-point game again before baskets by Craion and free throws by Morrison and Bell-Holter put the game away. Dribbling to run the clock out, Akron got the ball one more time and put up a meaningless three at the buzzer as ORU walked away with the 67-61 victory.
The Golden Eagles will have a week off before finishing the regular season at Southern Utah on February 25 at 8:30 p.m. (central time).