The North Dakota State women found themselves playing catch-up against a more physical Oral Roberts team and could never close the gap. The Golden Eagles used an 8-0 run to jump out to an early 14-9 lead and never looked back in a 71-58 victory. Oral Roberts advances to the Summit League Tournament semifinals where they’ll face South Dakota State on Monday afternoon.
The Bison finish their inaugural season under head coach Maren Walseth with an 11-18 record.
NDSU struggled to get good shots with Vicky McIntyre, the Golden Eagles’ 6-foot 7-inch center, clogging the lane. McIntyre was the league’s Newcomer of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. It showed.
The Bison were forced to settle for mid to long range jumpers that wouldn’t fall. “The position she plays as a true center, you can adjust game plans to those things,” said Golden Eagles head coach Misti Cussen.
NDSU finished the day 23-for-66 from the field. “Definitely not something that is common in the Summit League,” said Bison senior Liz Keena of McIntyre. Keena was tasked with guarding the Florida transfer. “She’s a good player, she knows how to use her body well. She’s a challenge for anybody.”
While NDSU was forced to settle for longer jump shots, the Golden Eagles made their living near the basket with 36 of their points coming inside the paint. McIntyre notched a double-double, pulling down 19 boards to go with her 18 points. Two other players scored in double figures for the Golden Eagles. They outrebounded NDSU 51-38.
“I thought at times we played very hard today,” said Walseth. “I thought at other times we let them dictate us, and that’s something we’ve worked on all season.”
NDSU was in the game for much of the first half, cutting the Golden Eagles’ lead to 29-21 with 2:06 left before halftime on a Taylor Thunstedt three-pointer and Brooke LeMar free throw. “All day today, I felt North Dakota State was on the verge of a run as well as Brooke was playing,” Cussen said. That was as close as the Bison would get, though. In a sign of how things went for the Bison, Atoe Jackson buried a three for the Golden Eagles as time expired in the half, pushing their lead to 37-26 at intermission.
The Bison couldn’t find a consistent rhythm offensively, in part by always having to account for McIntyre and from being forced to chase points from the opening minutes of the game. “You can’t get comfortable with your lead,” said McIntyre. “You have to lock in on defense every play and not settle on offense. It’s all about our defense.”
LeMar finished her career at NDSU leading all scorers with 29 points. The transfer from Southern Illinois was named to the all-conference first team on Thursday. “She’s a competitor and she’s been a competitor since the first day I met her,” said Walseth of her senior leader. “She’s not going to let her team down and she’s going to fight every single possession. You want to have that fight, and that competitor, especially at the point guard position.”
Despite a sixth straight year where the Bison failed to advance beyond the quarterfinal round – they last won a tournament game in March 2009 – the team made positive strides, highlighted by a 83-78 January win over league powerhouse South Dakota State in Fargo.
The Bison also improved their conference win total from last season by five games with their 7-9 league finish, something noted by Cussen. “That team in no way resembled what they had on paper last year. They had a different mindset and fight to them. They certainly didn’t carry themselves like a team that struggled last year.”
For her part, while Walseth acknowledges her team is a work progress, there is, by all accounts, progress being made. “We need to continue bringing in athletes that fit the NDSU profile, but will be competitive at this level,” concluded the first-year head coach. “We need some height. We just need to continue to grow and get better.