CONWAY, Ark. -
Oral Roberts University earned a share of the Southland Conference regular season championship on Saturday afternoon with a 68-53 victory over Central Arkansas. The win, combined with Sam Houston State's earlier loss to Northwestern State, gives ORU their third regular season conference crown in four years.
The Golden Eagles (16-12, 13-5 SLC) will enter next week's Southland Conference Tournament as the No. 1 seed after a Saturday victory by Lamar and a loss by McNeese State gave ORU a leg up over the Bearkats through the conference's tiebreaking procedures.
Taylor Cooper led the Golden Eagles with 20 points and nine rebounds, while Jaci Bigham added 15 points, six assists and seven steals.
Savanna Buck chipped in 10 points off the bench.
Seniors Bigham, Buck and Kevi Luper have been a part of each of ORU's regular season conference titles since 2010.
Luper scored six points and swiped six steals in her final regular season game.
Megan Herbert led the Sugar Bears (15-14, 8-10 SLC) with 24 points and 11 rebounds, while Courtney Duever added nine points and 16 rebounds.
ORU gained control of the game with a 9-2 run late in the opening half. A pair of Bernadett Balla free throws at the 5:21 mark gave the Golden Eagles a 28-16 lead.
UCA cut into the lead heading into the halftime locker room, but ORU was still able to end the half with momentum. A Buck layup just seconds before the buzzer gave the Golden Eagles a 34-27 edge.
Bigham led the Golden Eagles with 10 points, four assists and four steals at the break, while Herbert had 13 to pace the Sugar Bears.
ORU held the home team to 29.6% shooting and forced 10 turnovers in the first period.
The Sugar Bears gradually chipped away at the lead before ORU exploded again, this time with more help from Balla and Buck. The sophomore kicked off a 9-0 ORU run with four straight points, then Buck supplied the next five as the road side built a 48-36 lead with 11:28 left.
The Golden Eagles did not let up. A 10-0 run late in the half pushed ORU's lead to 18 points, as an acrobatic Bigham layup made the score 60-42 with 6:36 on the clock.
The outcome was never in doubt again, and ORU cruised to a 15-point win.
Buck wasn't the only reserve player to have a big effort on Saturday. Balla had several timely buckets and finished with eight points to go with five rebounds.
The victory clinches a winning season for ORU, their fourth in a row.
ORU will open the SLC Tournament on Friday, March 15 in Katy, Texas, with an 11 am tipoff against an opponent yet to be determined.