Oral Roberts pulls off another upset, this time against Florida, to become second 15-seed to reach Sweet 16

INDIANAPOLIS -- Paul Mills made it to laundry day.

After spending more than a week in the NCAA tournament bubble, Mills and his Oral Roberts team aren't leaving town. The Golden Eagles are headed to the Sweet 16, joining the 2013 Florida Gulf Coast team as the only 15-seeds in tournament history to reach the round of 16.

Oral Roberts erased an 11-point, second-half deficit to beat seventh-seeded Florida 81-78 at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum on Sunday. The Eagles, who on Friday won their first NCAA tournament game since 1974 by stunning No. 2 seed Ohio State, advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since the same year, when they were called the Titans and the tournament featured only 25 teams.

"I'm glad that we get a chance to do laundry," Mills said on a video call with reporters. "We got here last Saturday. We'll be off [Monday]. Tomorrow will be a good day because I have run out of clothes."

His team hasn't run out of chances after outscoring Florida 13-4 over the final 4:34. Star tandem Kevin Obanor and Max Abmas fueled Oral Roberts, combining for 54 points and both playing all 40 minutes, but sophomore DeShang Weaver put the Golden Eagles up for good with a corner 3-pointer with 2:09 to play. Florida had two chances to tie in the closing seconds, but 3-point attempts by Tre Mann and Scottie Lewis missed.

"D.J. Weaver was huge," Mills said. "We knew that they were playing that 1-3-1 [zone], so we stuck D.J. over there. I just told D.J., said, 'D.J., you're going to have a chance to win it, or put us up. I need you to knock down this 3.'

"That kid is not scared. Love D.J. Weaver. He's super resilient, he cares about a team."

Oral Roberts advances in the South Region to face No. 3 seed Arkansas. The teams met Dec. 20 in Fayetteville; the Razorbacks won 87-76 and held Abmas to only 11 points.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Oral Roberts is the third Summit League team to reach the Sweet 16, and the first since 1998, when Valparaiso lost to Rhode Island 74-68. Oral Roberts had four consecutive losing seasons until winning 17 games in each of the past two campaigns under Mills.

"I wasn't aware that 1974 was the last [NCAA tournament] win," Mills said. "Honest to goodness, I told the guys all year, 'Not only are we going to win the conference tournament, but we're going to win multiple games in the NCAA.' We talk about -- and a lot of coaches do this -- winning in March back in November: 'These are the things that have to happen in order to win in March.'"

Mills is excited for the added attention the university will receive this week but thinks staying in the NCAA bubble will help his team's focus as it heads onto an even bigger stage.

"If you saw the E.J. Liddell tweet, this stuff is so phony," Mills said. "If you can be puffed up through praise, you can be ruined by criticism. I really tried to caution our guys that it's important that they get attention, that they get acknowledged for what they do, but when they have real issues, none of these people are around. You need to recognize it for what it is, and you also need to understand fandom when it doesn't go your way. The controlled environment, as the NCAA has put it, is terrific. We can get away from some of that fanfare that comes your way and people pulling you in a number of different directions.

"So, 100 percent it helps."

Florida led 42-37 at halftime, shot 55% from the field and had four players score 14 points or more. But the Gators committed 20 turnovers to only 12 for Oral Roberts. Obanor followed a 30-point performance against Ohio State by scoring 20 in the second half against Florida.

"I'm very grateful, even with this crazy year of COVID, nothing was promised," the junior forward said. "The fact that we even have March Madness and win a couple of games, we're just very grateful, very humbled, very honored. Florida was a good team. The last time we won a game in the NCAA tournament was 1974 and now we're in the Sweet 16.

"It's really just mind-blowing."