Newcomer ORU Knocks off Two-Time Defending Champion

By: Southland Conference
By: Southland Conference

KATY, Texas – From the moment her team joined the Southland Conference last July, Oral Roberts coach Misti Cussen felt that two-time defending tournament champion McNeese State was the measuring stick for the Golden Eagles, a belief that was bolstered by two close regular-season losses to the Cowgirls.

On Friday, ORU refused to let a third time be a charm for McNeese.

A 12-0 run midway in the second half provided the impetus to the Golden Eagles 79-66 win over the Cowgirls, earning them a berth in Saturday’s tournament final.

“We knew it would be a real battle when we had a chance to meet them again,” Cussen said. “Today we tried to put everything out there we could defensively, and I felt we kind of rushed them a little bit.”

The commitment to defense resulted in huge dividends for the top-seeded Golden Eagles (17-12), which held the fifth-seeded Cowgirls (18-14) to just 36 percent shooting while also causing 18 turnovers; the havoc caused by Oral Roberts also led to 24 points off McNeese miscues.

Losing leading scorer Kevi Luper, who fouled out at the 9:57 mark of the second half, appeared to be the opening the Cowgirls needed to overcome a 57-45 lead. It became reality when Arianna James’ field goal capped off an 8-0 run that brought McNeese to within 57-53 with 8:59 left.

“As I sat on the bench, Jaci (Bingham) looked at me and said, ‘We’ve got your back,’” said Luper, who finished with 17 points and five of the Golden Eagles’ 11 steals.

The rally served as a wake-up call for ORU, as a defensive clampdown kept McNeese scoreless for 4:36, a stretch that gave the Golden Eagles the opportunity they needed to break finally break the game open.

“We knew Oral Roberts would be extremely tough,” McNeese coach Brooks Donald Williams said. “We just didn’t have any answers for them.”

McNeese drew to within 69-60 with 3:57 left, but the fatigue of playing three games in three days finally appeared to wear on the Cowgirls, who will await a possible invitation to the Women’s NIT.

The loss also marked the end of the remarkable careers of Ashlyn and Caitlyn Baggett. Not only did the twin sisters lead McNeese to a pair of tournament titles while rewriting the Cowgirls record book in a variety of categories, the duo forever changed the culture of women’s basketball in Lake Charles, La.

“They helped build McNeese women’s basketball to what it is today,” Williams said. “I can’t put into words what they mean not only to McNeese, but to the Lake Charles community as well.

Added Ashlyn Baggett, “There’s nothing I would change about the last five years. I’d come back to McNeese 50 more times if I could.”

Postgame Quotes
Oral Roberts
Head coach Misti Cussen
Opening statement…
“Regardless from what the rankings say, we have been saying that McNeese was the team to beat in the Southland. Brooks (Donald Williams) is such a quality coach and quality person. They have a similar team to what we have at ORU. McNeese is senior driven by Caitlyn and Ashlyn Baggett. We knew it would be a real battle if we had the opportunity to meet them again. Today it was more for us at the defensive end. We tried to put everything out there that we could defensively and rush them a little bit. I think it also helped a little bit that we were a little more fresh since McNeese had played games the last two days.”

On the team’s plan once Kevi Luper fouled out…
“It shows a lot of resolve with the team. We did not do anything differently, so there is no coaching credit. Christian Key came back into the game and asserted herself in Kevi’s place and hit a couple of huge shots for us down the stretch and we were able to maintain and extend our lead. If I had a game ball today, I would give it to our defense as a whole and to Christian.”

On Savanna Buck’s play off the bench…
“Savanna is a rock. Today was one of those days that we just needed her presence. We needed her rebounding because when the game comes down to the wire, her hands find a way to get to the basketball.”

Oral Roberts senior guard Kevi Luper
On fouling out…
“I have a lot of faith in my team because we have so much talent on the floor without me there. As soon as I saw (the referee call the charge), I had a lot of emotions come forth because I could have possibly have played my last game. It’s like I didn’t have faith, it is just that everyone thinks when you foul out. When I sat on the bench, Jaci (Bigham) said to me, ‘We got your back,’ and Jaci is pretty solid, so I knew that our team had it.”

Oral Roberts senior guard Jaci Bigham
On the team’s plan once Kevi Luper fouled out…
“Obviously Kevi is a big part in what we do offensively and defensively with her steals. When she fouled out, I just didn’t want the girls to get rattled and to think that we were at a disadvantage. Kevi does so much for us, but we have a lot of talent with her off the floor as well. I just reassured the team that we were okay, we were still in control of the game and we were going to finish it strong.”

On this season …
“It was a lot of motivation for us this year to win since nobody expected us to. It really motivated us a lot to work hard. We just have to learn from this loss and move on and do better next year.”

McNeese State
Head coach Brooks Donald Williams
Opening statement…
“We knew Oral Roberts was going to be extremely tough and they certainly showed that today. We just really did not have an answer for them. ORU hit some big shots at crucial times and really caused some chaos for us offensively. ORU was certainly the better team today.”

On the careers of the Baggett twins…
“I don’t know if we can say in words (what these girls have meant to our program). They helped build Cowgirl basketball to what we see on the floor today. They set the standard for the future, and I am sure they will have the opportunity to keep playing in some form or fashion and hang another banner to add on to the ones these two have helped already hang at McNeese. I just can’t put into words what they have meant to McNeese, the Lake Charles community and Cowgirl basketball. It has been unbelievable.”

McNeese senior guard Caitlyn Baggett
On her career at McNeese State…
“It has been great playing in the Southland Conference. Everyone has been great and we have just had a lot of success since we’ve been here. We definitely wanted to go out with a third championship, but it just wasn’t meant to be. But it has been a great career and it has been a lot of fun.”

McNeese State senior guard Ashlyn Baggett
On her career at McNeese State…
“I wouldn’t change anything. I would come to McNeese 50 more times if I had the chance. I have really enjoyed playing in the Southland, playing against these great teams, meeting a lot of people and playing with my teammates. Katy is a great facility and people here just treat you great. I really loved it and I will really miss it.”


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