Brushing off the dust from a 12-day break in play, the Lady Eagles fell to the Texas A&M International University Lady Dustdevils 73-71 last night.
The team certainly put in the practice hours over the break according to head coach Stephanie Findley. The Lady Eagles worked hard to hone their fundamentals; they focused their efforts on passing, feeding the post, individual defense and executing their offense smoother.
“I’m hoping it’ll show up in us running our offense a little cleaner,” Findley said. “But you also lose time any time you aren’t playing games. You just aren’t going game speed.”
After so many practices, however, the Lady Eagles were prepped and ready to get back into competitive play.
“We’re so bored with practicing, I hope it doesn’t turn into turnovers and missed shots because we’re too wired,” Findley said. “We’ve had to focus a lot of our defense on stopping the perimeter and stopping, sometimes, more penetration. But on any given night you’ve got to be able to do all of it—stop it all.”
Oklahoma Christian University’s leading senior scorers Katy O’Steen and Roz Hamilton found a rhythm in the early minutes against their new conference foe, but were soon smothered by a persistently physical defense.
From the whistle, it started off hard and fast. Man-to-man coverage played in the Lady Eagles’ favor in the first minutes as a smooth move by Hamilton gave Oklahoma Christian the first basket. The next few minutes contained much of the same, with the Lady Eagles cycling through O’Steen to try and get their momentum started.
“Whenever we did hit shots it helped a lot,” Hamilton said. “Whenever some of our stuff worked—like our half-court traps—that helped too. But it was like we could never really get it going.”
The Lady Dustdevils refused to stay down, pushing far down the court in long passes for enough easy points and drawn fouls to stay close on the scoreboard early in the first half. Combined with their physicality, the Lady Eagles struggled to consistently interrupt Texas A&M International’s flow.
The Lady Dustdevils kept at it and took the lead for the remainder of the first half. Thanks to quick plays by junior Andee Wayne and sophomore Logan McKee in the final minute, the Lady Eagles trailed only 34-32 at the half.
“We didn’t play very well at all the first half, which was our fault and our problem right there,” senior Krista Stevens said. “We just have to get tougher with the ball, obviously, and make smarter choices.”
After the half, the tension in the Eagles’ Nest rose palpably. Texas A&M International pressed hard to extend their lead, and the Lady Eagles tried at every opportunity to hold. They kept attempting to draw fouls and inch closer, but could not get the physical leg up on the Lady Dustdevils.
Assistant coach Larry Truesdale agreed with Stevens, citing turnovers and the lack of physical assertiveness as the primary reason for a lackluster first.
“What happened, in my opinion, is that in the first half they whipped our tails,” Truesdale said. “We played a bad first half. We didn’t play hard, we didn’t play smart, we turned it over too much, and we put ourselves in a bad position. You put yourself in a bad position, and you’re giving that ref that chance to make a bad call.”
Four minutes into the second half, a long 3 by Stevens invigorated Oklahoma Christian—trailing 41-39. A few furious minutes of back-and-forth scoring followed, punctuated by rough drives to the rim.
A 3-pointer by Hamilton and a couple fouls drawn by Stevens brought the Lady Eagles close with 12 minutes on the clock, followed quickly with a 3-pointer by McKee to tie up the game at 53-53. Both offenses struggled to make plays connect in the following minutes, and with eight minutes left on the clock, the Lady Eagles were down by two points.
Senior Madison Middle pushed and shoved her way to the rim, giving the Lady Eagles the lead for the first time in the second half by a point. They built on the one point, extending the lead to 63-58 with six minutes on the clock.
A series of fouls drawing loud criticism from the crowd defined the last four minutes and the Lady Eagles couldn’t hold on to the lead—falling from a much-disputed foul in the last six seconds 73-71.
“The game wasn’t lost at the end, even though it looks like it was lost at the end,” Truesdale said. “We’re afraid to take it inside, ‘cause physically we feel like we aren’t tough enough.”
Truesdale continued to frankly lay out the weak points in the game, but embodied the Eagles’ spirit of perseverance in pointing out the necessary next steps for the team to take to build itself as a presence on court.
“I think we’re kind of leaderless,” Truesdale said. “Katy O does as good a job as she can, but you know, you got to have somebody else step up. If you’ll look at all our losses, I’d say that probably out of our nine losses we had leads with under three minutes to go in five of those nine, and we couldn’t finish it off. That’s what’s killing us right now. We are what we are—we got to keep learning, got to keep fighting, got to keep trying, but we got to finish a game.”
The Lady Eagles play the Rattlers of St. Mary’s University tomorrow. Tip off is at two p.m. in the Eagles’ Nest.