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The clever strategy that helped 15th-seeded Oral Roberts make history

Jeff Eisenberg
·2-min read

Instead of defending Florida like usual on one of the second half's pivotal possessions, Oral Roberts coach Paul Mills opted to take a calculated risk.

Mills instructed forward DeShang Weaver to foul Florida's poorest free throw shooter with the Golden Eagles behind by one and just over three minutes left to play.

The next time Florida's Osayi Osifo touched the ball, Weaver practically wrapped the redshirt junior in a bear hug just as Mills instructed. Osifo, who was 8-for-16 from the free throw line this season, missed the front end of a 1-and-1, giving Oral Roberts the ball back still trailing by just one.

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"We knew the next foul was in the bonus," Mills said. "We're not getting stops. We're not getting rebounds. We're down one. We need to give ourselves a chance here. We took a gamble and it paid off."

The shrewd intentional foul was one of the unsung keys to Oral Roberts' history-making 81-78 upset victory over Florida on Sunday night. The Golden Eagles became the second No. 15 seed in NCAA tournament history to advance to the Sweet 16, joining the high-flying, swashbuckling 2013 Florida Gulf Coast team that toppled San Diego State and Georgetown.

Simple math suggests that Mills made a smart choice calling for the intentional foul. Osifo theoretically had a 50% chance of missing the first free throw, a 25% chance of making the first and missing the second and a 25% chance of draining both.

Thus, the expected value for points for Osifo's trip to the free throw line was .75. That's much more favorable for Oral Roberts than the 1.08 points per possession Florida averaged during the game.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MARCH 21: Head coach Paul Mills of the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles looks on in the second half against the Florida Gators in the second round game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Indiana Farmers Coliseum on March 21, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MARCH 21: Head coach Paul Mills of the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles looks on in the second half against the Florida Gators in the second round game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Indiana Farmers Coliseum on March 21, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Oral Roberts forward Kevin Obanor capitalized on Osifo's miss, draining a go-ahead jump shot on the ensuing possession. Florida coach Mike White then called timeout and removed Osifo from the floor.

How pivotal was that one defensive stop in Oral Roberts' victory? Would the Golden Eagles have found a way to win without Mills' clever gamble? We'll never know.

All we do know is that Mills made a bold decision at a pivotal moment that ever-so-slightly increased his team's chances of winning.

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