ARLINGTON, Texas-Free throws down the stretch proved the difference as ORU broke an 11-game postseason losing streak with an 84-76 victory at UT Arlington, Wednesday night in the first round of the CIT.
The Golden Eagles led by as many as 20 and had it trimmed to seven late in the game but hit 12 free throws in the final three minutes to give ORU its first postseason victory since the 1974-75 season.
Including a 9-of-9 effort from the line by D.J. Jackson, ORU got 30 of its 84 points from the free throw line on 42 attempts.
Warren Niles led the way with 24 points as the Golden Eagles matched the most points give up this season by UTA, 21 points above their average. Four of the five starters for ORU scored in double figures, including 18 points for Shawn Glover, 15 for Damen Bell-Holter and a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds for Steven Roundtree.
ORU shot 49 percent (25-51) for the game and out-rebounded the Mavs 42-34, using that to a 21-15 edge in second chance points.
UTA shot just 34 percent in the first half but heated up late as the Mavs made a second-half run, finishing the game at 42 percent (29-69), led by 21 points from Karol Gruszecki. Kevin Butler, Jordan Reves and Brandon Edwards each chipped in 11.
“This was a good win,” said Coach Scott Sutton. “We were terrific for the first 35 minutes or so. I thought the first five minutes of the second half were huge for us. This is a team who can come back in a hurry because of how they play. I knew they were very capable of making a comeback and I thought our guys did a good job of keeping them at a distance. This is how I envisioned this team being able to play.”
It was all Roundtree early as he scored the first six ORU points and eight of the first 11 points as ORU trailed just once in the game after a 3-pointer to make it 3-2 Mavs. Niles caught fire from behind the arc and a basket by Bell-Holter made it a 10-0 run as the Golden Eagles opened up a 19-7 lead eight minutes into the game.
A basket and then a free throw by UTA made it 21-10 but another 8-0 run by the Golden Eagles made it 29-10 as the Golden Eagles shot better than 55 percent throughout the first half.
After grabbing as much as a 20-point lead in the first half, ORU maintained at least a 15 points lead the rest of the half and led 43-27 going into the locker room.
ORU scored the first four points of the second half and made it a 20-point lead again, and was able to withstand each mini-run by the Mavs, including one that cut the lead to 15 (56-41) with 11 minutes to play.
It would continue to reach 15 on a number of possessions until a 3-pointer by Butler finally made it a 14-point game. In all it was a 7-0 UTA run to make it 66-54 with less than six minutes to play. After an ORU free throw, the Mavs hit another 3-pointer and put the pressure on, making it a 10-point game at 67-57.
The Mavs continued to ratchet up the pressure and cut it to a seven point game with less than three minutes to play but free throws by Niles and Bell-Holter quickly pushed it back to 11, 74-63 with 2:45 to play.
A block led to a fast-break layup for UTA and a steal on the ensuing inbounds pass led to another and with 1:32 to play it was back to a seven-point game.
Free throws by Jackson helped ORU ice the game and now ORU will await its next opponent after the conclusion of CIT play on Wednesday.