FAYETTEVILLE – Because they won’t see Forrest City native and former Razorbacks walk-on RJ Glasper in an Oral Roberts University uniform Saturday night, the Razorbacks are apt to see way too much of ORU guard Max Abmas.
ORU’s Tulsa based Summit League Tournament champion Golden Eagles and NCAA Tournament Cinderella as the South Regional 15th-seed upsetting second-seed Ohio State and seventh-seeded Florida, meet third-seeded Arkansas in Saturday’s Sweet Sixteen WTBS televised 6:25 p.m South Regional semifinal at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Glasper scored 14 points while Abmas scored 11 back on Dec. 20 when Arkansas overcame a 40-30 halftime deficit and beat the Golden Eagles, 87-76 on Dec. 20 at Walton Arena.
Even with the intense defense that Arkansas guards Jalen Tate and Davonte “Devo” Davis can apply, chances of Abmas scoring only 11 Saturday night appear slim.
Abmas averages a team leading 24.5 points. He packed the second of ORU’s1-2 knockout punch over Ohio State and Florida scoring 29 and 26 points while ORU forward Kevin Obanor scored 30 and 28.
Seems as Glasper went down with a February season-ending injury that Abmas was asked to step up.
“We’re a much different team than we were earlier this year,” ORU Coach Paul Mills said at Wednesday’s Zoom press conference in Indianapolis. “Because Max is way more dominant than he was previously. Once our third-leading scorer (Glasper) went down, we told Max he would have to be more assertive. We had to figure out where these other 11 shots were coming from. So, we’re a different team in how we handle everything. I would tell you we are way more ball dominant with Max than we were back in December.”
Sophomore Abmas intended to be more assertive even before Glasper’s injury.
“Last year I played a lot of off the ball,” Abmas said Wednesday. “I really didn’t play on the ball that much. There were a lot of guys creating shots for me So coming into this year just losing a lot of seniors and a lot of guys I knew I had to take a bigger role. So this year is a lot more me being on the ball. I kind of created my own shot, created my own looks for my teammates and really just getting the offense going. That was one of the big roles I wanted to take this year.”
It’s quite a vault from when he was recruited by none of the traditionally basketball elite.
“Coming out of high school I had offers from the three military academies, Army, Navy and Air Force and then Oral Roberts and Marist,” Abmas said.
ORU, he said, was the right fit.
Mills certainly concurs.
“He wants to do everything right,” Mills said. “I’m a good believer that good people make good players, and he is a great young man.”
With a great shot that he’s had to make greater deeper.
“Midcourt Max” they call him for his deep threes.
“Yeah, Midcourt Max was one of the nicknames that kind of went over Twitter and kind of stuck,” Abmas said. “But yeah just working on shooting deeper threes. I kind of had the reputation of being a shooter so a lot of teams won’t let me get open looks right on the line or near the line. So I began shooting a little deeper, kind of stretching the floor a little bit more.”
With Abmas 97 of 225 on treys and ORU forward Kevin Obanor, 55 of 113 on treys and averaging 19.0 points, Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman knows it’s no stretch that Arkansas better be at its defensive best.
“Those two players in particular are playing as good as any combo teammate in the tournament right now,” Musselman said.