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Defense takes center stage in Summit tourney

The Summit League Tournament begins Saturday, and the men and women’s teams will represent

Each team is focused on defense going into the upcoming games, which could put them in the NCAA Tournament. Both teams have showed renewed passion on the defensive end of the floor over the weeks leading up to the tournament.

The men held North Dakota State and Denver below 58 points last week. Head Coach Scott Sutton plans on using the recent tenacity as a foundation to build upon for a successful run into postseason.

“I think guys are finally buying in that this is how we have to play,” Sutton said. “If we’re going to have success, we have to defend, and we have to defend as a group. We can’t rely on one or two guys to play defense and three guys not.”

The weight on individuals to fill the void of an absent Korey Billbury has led to a renewed sense of collective determination.

“I think we faced some adversity and through that we’ve come together as a team,” guard Darian Harris said. “We’ve played really well together defensively and through that we’ve tried to make it one unit rather than five individuals.”

Defense has been the calling card of the women’s team since midway through the conference season. The ladies have given up a miniscule average of 58 points in the last seven games.

“Defense wins championships. We may or may not shoot the ball well,” Head Coach Misti Cussen said. “Everybody may not shoot the ball well at the new facility up there in Sioux Falls. Your defense can travel with you wherever you go.”

The men’s team begins their bid for a title on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. against IUPUI. The team is carrying the momentum of two straight home wins in the past week.

“IUPUI is going to be a difficult game,” Sutton said. “They had a chance to beat us here [at home]. We played really well at their place and beat them. This is a team that will defend you. They’re very, very deep.”

ORU swept IUPUI during the season. The men won on the road in overtime on Jan. 7, then at home in a 10-point victory on Feb. 5, but the team isn’t looking past IUPUI despite the success.

“Every game is your last game,” Harris said. “You can’t treat it like you have to rest for a game or save energy. Every game is potentially your last game so you have to bring it every practice and every minute of the game.”

A win puts ORU against either No. 2 seed South Dakota State or No. 7 seed Denver depending on the outcome of the other game.

 The women will begin the tournament on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. against North Dakota State. They are riding momentum of their own with victories in five of the last seven games.

“One of my favorite things about our team right now is that we know who we are,” Cussen said. “I don’t think that last season we every enjoyed that identity moment. This team really knows who they are, and they know their roles.”

The women’s team would similarly play either South Dakota State or Denver in round two Monday.

“Season one ended back in December when non-conference play stopped. Season two is now completely over; there’s no more regular season games. Everybody is 0-0 again. It’s time to start season three,” said Cussen. “It’s a fresh start for everyone. Everybody will be focused on Saturday and Sunday and we’ll be right there with them.”

Three wins by either team gives ORU a Summit League Championship title and a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

 “It’s such a special occasion whenever you’re able to win a conference tournament and go to the NCAA Tournament,” Sutton said.

“There’s nothing like it. There really isn’t. I really hope this group gets a chance to experience that,” he said.

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