Its time to stop sleeping on Dominique Morrison

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TULSA – The Summit League is one of the most underrated conferences in the country. They are rarely mentioned when the conversation of the best mid-major league comes up, yet they sit 12th in the league RPI standings and can claim five of the nation’s top 15 scorers. And to get an idea of just how good Oral Roberts was expected to be this season, think about this: not only were the Golden Eagles the overwhelming favorite to win the league, getting 27 of the 32 first place votes, all five of their starters made preseason first or second team all-Summit.

Yet ORU didn’t exactly kick off their season the way many would have liked. They lost to West Virginia in their opener and followed that up with a loss to UT-San Antonio, one that ended any chance they would play in Madison Square Garden in the Preseason NIT.

Something clicked in mid-December, however, and to the outside observer, Oral Roberts can thank the Crosstown Shootout for the turnaround.

The Golden Eagles had lost two out of three heading into that game on December 18th, succumbing to Oklahoma and Gonzaga while needing what may end up being the shot of the year to knock off Arkansas-Little Rock. And they still had to head to the Cintas Center to take on Xavier and host Texas Tech of the Big 12 before kicking off Summit League play with three road games. Throw in the fact that Dominique Morrison, their star forward, was struggling to find his rhythm early on, and the situation was far from ideal.

But ORU smoked the Musketeers, winning 64-42 — a final that didn’t even accurately represent their dominance — against a Xavier team playing without Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons and Dez Wells, following that up with a 16 point win over Texas Tech before jumping out to a 10-0 start in league play.

Head coach Scott Sutton, however, places the credit elsewhere.

“It started with the UALR game,” Sutton said after a 92-83 win over Oakland in front of a raucous Mabee Center. “We didn’t play well in the first half and came back and hit the shot. For that shot to get the attention it did was big. Then we went up to Gonzaga and played well in a loss and beat Xavier.”

“We carried that momentum into the first weekend of conference play.”

With all due respect to Coach Sutton, my money says the spark that changed the Golden Eagle’s season was the change in Morrison.

Over the past month, Morrison has been as good as anyone in the country. In his last 11 games, Morrison is averaging 24.7 ppg and 4.5 rpg while shooting 58.2% from the floor, 60.2% (35-58) from three and 88.2% from the line. Oral Roberts is 11-0 in that stretch. Prior to that stretch, he was averaging 15.1 ppg while shooting a career-low 41.4% from the floor and 23.5% from beyond the arc.

That’s quite a swing.

What changed?

“We had a meeting. Coach told me he didn’t think I was playing up to my abilities,” Morrison said, and it was something that he took to heart. “I had to look my self in the eye and say ‘you aren’t playing up to your abilities.’ I just went to work even harder. I was in the gym even more and was even more dedicated. I was already dedicated but I had to do even more because I knew was letting myself down. … I didn’t want to let my coaching staff down or my team, either.”

Oral Roberts hasn’t lost since.

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Dominique Morrison has made a career out of getting overlooked, and that started well before he enrolled at ORU, a Interdenominational Christian school with an enrollment of less than 4,000 students.

Think about this: Morrison is a guy that is on pace to score more than 2,000 points in his collegiate career, yet he was the fourth — yes, the fourth — option on his AAU team. Normally, this wouldn’t exactly be a glowing compliment for anyone, but Morrison played for Kansas City Pump-n-Run, one of the best AAU programs in the country. Missouri’s Marcus Denmon and Steve Moore and Kansas forward Travis Releford joined Morrison in that team’s starting lineup.

That was a blessing for Sutton, who took advantage of the fact that recruiters from the high-major programs looked past Morrison.

“I think Dominique was a late-bloomer, number one,” Sutton said. “He played on a team like that where he was the fourth option, and I think sometimes kids like that get overlooked.”

There was more to it than simply not getting enough touches. Morrison simply doesn’t look like he’s going to be great athlete. Standing 6’6″, Morrison is long and lanky with big feet and an awkward gait. He’s not really a guard and he’s not really a forward, either, which pigeonholed him in that dreaded “tweener” category. Throw in the dreadlocks that are now hanging down to his shoulders, and its actually not all that difficult to see why the bigger schools in the area passed initially.

Looks can be deceiving, however. So Sutton swooped in, but as it turned out, he didn’t really need to do all that much recruiting.

“The funny thing is, we came down here for the Mullen’s Tournament,” said Morrison, whose accent can hardly be considered a drawl given how fast he can talk. “I was walking around and I was like ‘this place is cool, I can see myself here.’ And my AAU coach was like ‘you know they’re recruiting you?'”

He didn’t.

“Coach came to watch me play when I was here, and coach kept watching me and watching me. Then I came down here on a visit, and I fell in love. But I also saw them play when I was a junior and senior in high school and I saw Caleb Greene play for two years. That attracted me a lot too. But when I came down here, I fell in love.”

Morrison isn’t exaggerating when he says he fell in love, either.

He signed with ORU prior to his senior year in high school and proceeded to have a sensational final season. He averaged 25.6 ppg and 6.0 rpg, leading Raytown HS to a season-long No. 1 ranking in the state of Missouri and an undefeated regular season; they eventually were knocked off in the state playoffs.

In the process, he caught the eye of a couple of programs that realized they whiffed on a talent in their backyard.

“After we signed him early in that period, he went on and had just an outstanding senior year,” Sutton said. “I think a lot of folks, Big 12 folks included, were like ‘man, we may have made a mistake. He’s a heck of a player.'”

Sutton thought right.

“When I had already signed, Missouri started showing me interest,” Morrison said, “but it was too late. My mother was like ‘No, you’re going to Oral Roberts’, so I didn’t even think about it. I didn’t second guess anyway.”

“Missouri was my dream school but I fell in love with Oral Roberts. Dreams go away, but love stays.”

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The main reason that Morrison is such a dangerous player is his efficiency.

Simply put, he doesn’t take bad shots. Its incredible when you watch him play. He doesn’t force the issue at all. Everything that he gets comes in the flow of the Oral Roberts’ offense. Whether he’s being isolated on the block of running off of a double-screen, Morrison doesn’t need to dribble the ball 15 times and dominate possession in order to manufacture a good shot.

Defining Morrison as a “tweener” is probably accurate, but it would be unfair to associate him with the negative connotations that go along with that word. Morrison can step out and hit a three and he can also be effective when he catches the ball with his back to the basket. But where he thrives is in the mid-range. He is pull-up jumper is lethal. He’s got a soft touch and his length, athleticism and high-release point allows him to get the shot off regardless of the defense that is being played on him. He’s also dangerous when he’s allowed to curl off of a down-screen.

His game is reminiscent of Texas A&M’s Khris Middleton, only Morrison is a touch more athletic and has a head of hair that would make the Marleys jealous.

Heading into Saturday’s game, Morrison was second in the country in efficiency rating for players considered major contributors (those that use at least 24% of their team’s possessions), behind only Weber State’s Damian Lillard and ahead of tempo-free favorites Mike Scott and Doug McDermott. But after scoring 24 points on 14 shots against Oakland, Morrison was no longer second on that list.

Why?

Because his usage rate dropped too far. Morrison may be the best player on ORU’s team, but he’s too efficienct and unselfish to actually be considered a “major contributor” to the stat-heads.

“He doesn’t force shots,” Sutton said. “He played IUPUI and he only had 12 points. He wasn’t going out there and tried to out duel Alex Young, who he was guarding. He scored a bunch of points, but he worked for every bucket he got.”

The game that Sutton is referring too happened last Saturday. Alex Young is a star guard for IUPUI and one of the five players that is averaging more than 20 ppg. Morrison, in the midst of this month-long hot streak, spent all 34 of the minutes that he was on the court guarding Young. Young went for 27 points, although it took his 27 shots to get there.

Morrison?

He had only 12 points, allowing his teammates to do the damage when defenses focused on him instead of worrying about getting drawn into a one-on-one shootout with the conference’s Preseason Player of the Year.

“Its all about taking good shots,” he said. “The coaches get mad when we take bad shots. I don’t look to force shots. If its there, its there, but if not, I’ll pass the ball.”

That’s part of why Oral Roberts is able to thrive. Morrison doesn’t need to have the ball in his hands on every possession for this group to win, and he understands that. In the game we saw, Warren Niles snapped out of his season-long shooting funk to get for 27 points and hit 7-12 from long range. Michael Craion, Steven Rountree and Damen Bell-Holter are all capable of going for 20 and 10 on a given night. Roderick Pearson has a knack for making big plays for this team.

There is plenty of talent on the ORU roster, and Morrison knows that. He embraces the fact that, at times, he’s the most valuable playing the role of decoy.

“He’s a great team guy, he’s a guy that its not all about him,” Sutton said. “I think he’s developed into a very good leader. The best thing I can say about him is he’s just a winner. He’s one of the biggest competitors I’ve ever coached. Whether its playing Oakland or playing a pickup game, he just wants to win.”

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Despite the season that he is having, I’d be willing to bet that there are a very limited number of fans outside of Tulsa that know who Dominique Morrison is. The number of experts that would be able to break down his skill-set probably isn’t all that much higher.

That’s part of the problem with playing in the Summit League. The games aren’t on national TV. The game we went to was broadcast on tape delay on a local Fox Sports channel. That’s part of the reason that, despite the way he has been playing over the last month, no one seems to mention his name.

Not even the efficiency gurus seem to have embraced Morrison, even though he is precisely the kind of player that they would love.

“He’s played as well as anybody in the country the last month,” Sutton said. “You look at his stats over the last three or four weeks, and its pretty amazing.”

After the game, reporters had to wait a good 45 minutes to get a chance to interview Morrison.

This had nothing to do with Morrison’s ego, mind you. This wasn’t the result of a player getting a big head. He wasn’t hurt. He wasn’t even showering.

He had actually spent the entire time up in the Mabee Center’s main concourse, signing autographs and taking pictures in a school-sponsored event. After signing around 250-300 posters that were given out at the game — and countless other pieces of memorabilia, including one kid’s hand — Morrison finally made his way down to the press room.

“Everybody loves me,” Morrison said with a smile that didn’t off as sheepish as much as it did a kid that’s living in the moment. When you play at Oral Roberts, its not every day that you get showered with adulation. What kind of person wouldn’t eat up that moment and that attention? “They started clapping when I walked up.”

“I’m not trying to put myself on a pedestal, but when I was walking around up there everyone was saying they’re going to miss me. I am going to miss being here. I love being here. It was a different thing, it was a culture shock how nice people are. I’ve never been a part of this, people just opening up doors for you and always speaking. It changed me as a man, it helped me grow up.”

The kid that always gets overlooked was finally getting the attention he deserves.

Now its time to wait for the rest of the nation to catchup.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

No. 16 Xavier beats No. 17 Providence 85-83 in OT thriller

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CINCINNATI — Jack Nunge had 23 points and 14 rebounds as No. 16 Xavier held off No. 17 Providence 85-83 in an overtime thriller Wednesday night.

Colby Jones and Souley Boum each scored 20 for the Musketeers, who won a first-place showdown in the Big East without injured forward Zach Freemantle.

Noah Locke had 22 points and Ed Croswell added 21 for Providence (17-6, 9-3), which had beaten Xavier three straight times.

A layup by Boum put the Musketeers (18-5, 10-2) ahead 82-79 with 51 seconds remaining in overtime. A turnover by the Musketeers led to a layup by Devin Carter that cut Xavier’s lead to one with 24 seconds left.

Boum hit one of two free throws, and Jared Bynum’s 3-point attempt from the left corner rimmed out at the buzzer as the Musketeers held on.

Xavier played its first game without Freemantle, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. He is expected to miss four weeks with a left foot injury, the same foot that required surgery in 2021.

Jerome Hunter, who has excelled off the bench for the Musketeers, made his first start of the season and scored nine points with eight rebounds. Xavier had used the same starting lineup in each of its previous 11 Big East games.

Things started well for the Musketeers. who went on a 12-1 run to build a 25-11 lead.

With Boum on the bench with two fouls, the Musketeers didn’t have a field goal in the final 4:18 of the first half and the Friars pulled to 39-35 at halftime.

Providence outscored Xavier 8-2 to start the second half and took its first lead, 43-41, with 17:41 left.

There was a frantic finish to the second half, with Adam Kunkel’s 3-pointer putting Xavier ahead 76-73 with 55 seconds left. But then Bynum banked in a tying 3 and Boum missed two long shots to send the game to overtime.

BIG PICTURE

Providence: The Friars, who won their first Big East regular-season title last year, entered the night tied atop the conference standings with Xavier and No. 14 Marquette, which hosted Villanova later. Providence was picked fifth in the preseason.

Xavier: Hunter, who averages 14 minutes, left with three minutes remaining in OT with an apparent cramp in his right leg. With Freemantle out, Hunter played 36 minutes.

UP NEXT

Providence: Hosts last-place Georgetown on Wednesday.

Xavier: Will host St. John’s on Saturday.

Florida upends No. 2 Tennessee 67-54 behind Colin Castleton

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Colin Castleton had 20 points and nine rebounds, Kyle Lofton added 14 points and Florida used a 13-0 run late in the second half to upend No. 2 Tennessee 67-54 on Wednesday night.

The Volunteers, playing with their highest ranking in four years, lost for the first time in five games. They had won nine of 10.

Tennessee (18-4, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) looked like it had taken control midway through the second half. They outscored Florida by 10 points in the early going to take a six-point lead.

But the Gators (13-9, 6-3) stormed back behind Castleton, who scored 11 of 14 points as Florida rallied. The senior had a dunk, two free throws, a three-point play, a layup and a short jumper – essentially putting the team on his back down the stretch.

Myreon Jones and Will Richard chipped in nine points apiece for the Gators.

Zakai Ziegler led the Vols with 15 points on 6-of-19 shooting. Olivier Nkamhoua added 11 points and nine rebounds for the vistors, who also got 11 points and eight boards from Vescovi Santiago.

Florida led 27-21 at halftime, just the fifth time the Volunteers has trailed at the break this season. Tennessee rallied to win three of the previous four.

The Gators were red hot to start, making six of their first eight shots – including all three from 3-point range – while building a 17-4 advantage. But they quickly cooled against the nation’s best defense, missing nine of their next 11 as Tennessee made cut it to 22-21.

The Vols had it going coming out of the locker room, with Ziegler getting into the paint and making things happen. But it was short-lived – thanks mostly to Castleton.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Tennessee surely will drop a few spots in next week’s AP Top 25 college basketball poll.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers gave up 10 points in the opening four minutes of the games, a rare sluggish start for the nation’s best defense. Tennessee had held four of its first eight SEC opponents scoreless at the first media timeout, roughly the first four minutes of games. It was a sign of things to come.

Florida: The Gators have been resilient much of the season, and this was arguably the most impressive comeback of the season for coach Todd Golden’s team. The Gators squandered a 13-point lead early and a six-point advantage in the second half. But they rallied when it mattered.

IN THE HOUSE

Football coach Billy Napier watched the game from a few rows behind Florida’s bench alongside his two sons and receiver Ricky Pearsall. Former Florida tennis star Ben Shelton, the NCAA singles champion in 2022, also was in attendance. So was former Gators and NFL quarterback Doug Johnson.

UP NEXT

Tennessee hosts No. 25 Auburn and former coach Bruce Pearl on Saturday.

Florida plays at Kentucky on Saturday. The Gators have lost seven of eight in the series.

No. 8 Kansas avenges earlier loss to No. 7 Kansas State, 90-78

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Jalen Wilson had 20 points, Kevin McCullar Jr. added 16 points and 13 rebounds, and No. 8 Kansas avenged a loss to Kansas State just a couple of weeks ago with a 90-78 victory over the seventh-ranked Wildcats.

Dajuan Harris Jr. scored 18 for the Jayhawks (18-4, 6-3 Big 12), who built a 12-point halftime lead before coasting to their 17th straight home win over the Wildcats in the 10th matchup of top-10 teams in series history.

Kansas has rebounded nicely from a rare three-game skid that included the overtime loss to Kansas State, and made sure to avoid taking back-to-back losses in its storied home for the first time since the 1988-89 season.

Markquis Nowell scored 23 points and Keyontae Johnson had 22 to lead the Wildcats (18-4, 6-3), who were trying for their first regular-season sweep of their biggest rival in four decades. Nae’Qwan Tomlin added 11 points and David N’Guessan had 10.

In their first meeting on Jan. 17, the Wildcats raced to a big early lead and controlled the game until late in the second half, when the Jayhawks forced overtime — only for Kansas State to win on Johnson’s alley-oop dunk.

It was the Jayhawks who controlled the rematch.

They used a 16-7 run in the first half that included a technical foul on Kansas State coach Jerome Tang to build a 32-19 lead. And when Johnson answered with eight straight points for the Wildcats, and the lead was eventually trimmed to four, the reigning national champs pulled away again down the stretch.

It was 37-32 when Wilson hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Zach Clemence added one of his own. And by the time Wilson made two foul shots with about 10 seconds left, Kansas had built a 49-37 lead that it took to the break.

The Wildcats briefly got within six in the second half before the Jayhawks stretched their lead to as many as 16.

OFFICIATING OOPS

Johnson had to sit with two fouls just 2 1/2 minutes into the game. Only problem? The crew of John Higgins, Kip Kissinger and Marques Pettigrew gave one to the wrong player. By the time they corrected their mistake, the Wildcats’ leading scorer had unnecessarily ridden the bench for several minutes.

SELLOUT … AND THEN SOME

For the first time in more than 15 years, more Kansas students redeemed tickets than there was space available inside Allen Fieldhouse. The overflow had to watch the game on screens in the adjacent Horejsi Family Athletics Center, where the Jayhawks play volleyball games. Those students also got refunds and concessions vouchers.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State’s three losses in league play have been to ranked teams on the road: TCU, Iowa State and Kansas. And with a more forgiving second half to the Big 12 schedule, the Wildcats remain firmly in the conference title hunt.

Kansas got its mojo back with its win over Kentucky last weekend. This victory over another bunch of Wildcats was crucial because the road doesn’t get any easier for the Jayhawks, who are in the midst of three straight games against teams ranked 13th or better.

UP NEXT

Kansas State returns home for another top-10 showdown Saturday against No. 10 Texas.

Kansas hits the road for the third time in four games against No. 13 Iowa State on Saturday.

BC beats No. 20 Clemson 62-54; Tigers fall into ACC tie

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BOSTON — Makai Ashton-Langford had two key driving baskets in the closing two minutes and finished with 15 points to help Boston College beat No. 20 Clemson 62-54 on Tuesday night.

Jaeden Zackery added 13 points for the Eagles (11-12, 5-7 Atlantic Coast Conference). BC held Clemson to one field goal — and that came with 18 seconds left — in the final 13:16.

Hunter Tyson led Clemson (18-5, 10-2) with 22 points and Chase Hunter had 12. The Tigers fell into a first-place tie atop the ACC with No. 6 Virginia.

The Eagles used a 5-0 spurt — with T.J. Bickerstaff hitting a free throw and getting a driving layup — to pull ahead 50-45 with just over five minutes to play.

Clemson sliced it to 50-47 before Aston-Langford made his two big baskets. He followed that by making two free throws with 32 seconds left.

Trailing by 10 midway into the second half, the Tigers went on a 10-0 spree, tying it at 45 when RJ Godfrey hit both ends of a 1-and-1.

The Eagles had opened a double-digit lead twice in the opening six minutes of the second half, the later 45-35 on Prince Aligbe’s foul-line jumper with 14:12 to play.

BIG PICTURE

Clemson: Off to a solid start in conference play, the Tigers were tested on the road for the second straight game after edging Florida State by a point on Saturday. It hasn’t been easy for them away from home with a 4-3 record and with three away matchups against North Carolina, North Carolina State and Virginia to go, they’ll need to get it straightened out of they’re going to won the ACC regular-season title.

Boston College: The Eagles proved when they play defense that they’re a tough out in coach Earl Grant’s second season. A little more offense could make them very dangerous for top ACC teams to play.

ARRIVING LATE

In the first half, Clemson’s man-to-man defense smothered the Eagles’ offense for the opening 10 minutes, holding them in single digits in scoring until just about the same time the student section finished filling up late, bringing some energy to a very quiet building.

BC’s players then responded, closing the half with a 22-4 spree that turned an 11-point deficit to a 30-23 halftime edge.

SIDELINED

Both teams were missing key players. Guard Brevin Galloway, Clemson’s fourth leading scorer at 10.6 points per game, was sidelined with an abdominal injury. For BC, guard DeMarr Langford Jr., who logs big minutes at the point, was out with a knee injury.

UP NEXT

Clemson: Hosts No. 23 Miami on Saturday.

Boston College: Hosts Syracuse on Saturday.

South Carolina tops women’s AP Top 25; Ohio State tumbles

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It was a rough week for Ohio State, which lost all three of its games and tumbled down the AP Top 25 as a result.

The previously unbeaten Buckeyes fell from second to 10th in The Associated Press women’s basketball poll released Monday after losing to Iowa and Indiana, two top 10 teams, as well as Purdue. Ohio State fell two games back in the Big Ten Conference standings.

South Carolina remained No. 1 for the 32nd consecutive week. The Gamecocks, who were again a unanimous choice from the 28-member national media panel, have the fourth-longest streak ever atop the poll. Only UConn (51 and 34 weeks) and Louisiana Tech (36) have had longer runs at No. 1.

Stanford moved back up to No. 2 in the poll and the Cardinal were followed by LSU, Indiana and UConn in the top five. LSU is the only other undefeated team in women’s basketball besides South Carolina, which visits UConn for a top-five showdown on Sunday.

Iowa jumped out four spots to sixth with Utah, Maryland and Notre Dame coming in ahead of Ohio State. The Hawkeyes started the season No. 4 in the poll.

The Fighting Irish split a pair of games last week against ranked opponents, routing Florida State before falling to N.C. State.

“There’s a lot of parity right now, which is great, great for the game,” Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said. “The game is growing, which is what you want. But yeah, I mean, every night, especially the ACC, the ACC is the strongest league and, you know, we have just a tough stretch every night.”

One week after falling out of the rankings, Texas re-entered the poll at No. 24. The Longhorns routed then-No. 14 Oklahoma and Oklahoma State last week. South Florida also came in at No. 25. Colorado and Illinois fell out of the poll.

RISING BULLS

No. 25 South Florida continued its streak of being ranked for at least one week every season since the Bulls entered the poll for the first time in 2015.

“For us not being in a so-called football five conference, that’s a huge accomplishment,” South Florida coach Jose Fernandez said. His team has won 10 consecutive games and has 20 victories this season. The team’s four losses have all come against ranked opponents (Michigan, Villanova, Ohio State and N.C. State).

“This group has been fun to coach. We always play a great non(equals)conference schedule,” Fernandez said. “We won on the road at Texas, beat Alabama, beat Arkansas. We challenged ourselves in November and December.”

RECORD PERFORMANCES

Cameron Brink carried Stanford to a win over Oregon with a triple-double that included 10 blocks. It was the first triple-double in NCAA Division I women’s basketball featuring double-digit blocks since Tamari Key did it for Tennessee in an overtime win against Texas on Nov. 21, 2021.

No. 20 Oklahoma’s Taylor Robertson set the all-time NCAA women’s career record for 3-pointers when she hit her 498th in a loss to Iowa State on Saturday. Robertson has 503 entering this week. The all-time NCAA record, men or women, is held by Antoine Davis of Detroit Mercy, who has 534 and counting.