Oral Roberts Snags 14 Seed In NCAA Tournament

Sunday, March 11th 2007, 6:26 pm

By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) Oral Roberts University knew days ago it would be a lock for the Big Dance. So the only Selection Sunday jitters for the Golden Eagles came over whether they could avoid the dreaded No. 16 seed.

The prayers of the small private school were answered, as ORU (23-10) got a No. 14 seed in the East Region, and will be pitted against No. 3 seed Washington State (25-7) in Sacramento. It is Washington State's first NCAA tournament appearance since 1994.

When the seeding was announced, a roar went up from the hundreds of fans and Mabee Maniacs -- most clad in the school's colors of gold, white and blue -- gathered on campus Sunday to watch the show. Before the announcement, fans stocked up on commemorative T-shirts and Ken Tutt and Caleb Green bobblehead dolls.

Fans didn't seem to mind that their opening game would be about 1,700 miles away.

"Wish they would've sent us a little bit closer than Sacramento," coach Scott Sutton told the crowd.

It's the first time ORU, a school of about 5,400 students, will play in back-to-back NCAA tournaments and caps off a whirlwind season that saw a major upset against then-No. 3 Kansas in November. The victory was the biggest in school history.

Last week, ORU earned an automatic berth in the tournament after staging a come-from-behind win against Oakland in the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament title game.

"Coming into the season, that was our goal, to be in the top two teams (in the conference)," said Green, a senior and the Mid-Continent Conference's all-time leading scorer with 2,490 career points. "Washington State is a heck of a matchup."

As Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Tulsa saw their tournament bubbles burst in the past week, their only hope left one of 32 spots in the National Invitation Tournament, the spotlight seemed to shine a little brighter on ORU.

"Once you win that first game, anything can happen," Sutton said, on his team's chances in the tournament.

For many of fans gathered to watch Sunday, grabbing the No. 14 seed proved their team belonged in the tournament.

"We're overlooked because we're in the Mid-Continent Conference," said longtime fan Grant Bentley. "We've showed we can play with powerhouse teams."

For alumna and Tulsa resident Joleen Minyard, who has rooted for ORU when they were known as the Titans and played in a much smaller venue, the back-to-back tournament appearances meant a return to the glory days.

"It's like they're back and it feels so good to have them back," she said.

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