KATY, Texas-Oral Roberts' first trip to the Southland Conference Tournament was cut short on Thursday as the third-ranked Golden Eagles fell 58-55 to No. 6 Sam Houston State inside the Merrell Center.
Out-going seniors Warren Niles and Damen Bell-Holter powered ORU (18-14) in the loss. Niles tallied a game-high 19 points, while Bell-Holter had nine points but a game-high eight rebounds. Korey Billbury had a solid night with 12 points, two steals and just one turnover as ORU committed just nine turnovers as a team.
Sam Houston got 13 points from Paul Baxter and 12 from Terrance Motley in the victory.
ORU shot an incredible 60 percent (12-20) from the field in the first half but couldn't buy a basket in the second, hitting just five of 23 shot attempts (21 percent). SHSU finished the game at 50 percent from the field, including seven 3-pointers.
"It boils down to they made shots and we didn't," said Scott Sutton. "They hit shots all night long. They are a tough team, they really defend and really rebound. I thought we handled it very well in the first half."
The Bearkats had a 31-25 edge on the boards in the game and hit seven of their 15 3-point attempts while ORU hit just two of 12 attempts from long range.
The defensive intensity was there early for the Golden Eagles as they turned the Bearkats over on their first two possessions and took an early 7-2 lead after a 3-point play by Niles.
Getting baskets from five different players, ORU had an 11-7 lead four minutes into the game, but Sam Houston used a 7-2 run to tie the game back at 11-11.
A Billbury 3-pointer momentarily held off the Bearkats, but a 3-pointer by Jeremy McKay gave SHSU its first lead of the game at 16-15 with 9:59 to go in the half.
Locked in a battle for the remainder of the first half, ORU finally got some distance scoring the final six points of the half, including a tip-in at the buzzer by Brandon Conley to give the Golden Eagles their largest lead of the half, 36-29 at the break.
Aided by a pair of 3-point baskets, SHSU got back in the game and tied things up at 43-43 with 13:30 to play, out-scoring ORU 14-7 to start the second half.
The game had just one point for the next four minutes of action and ORU tried feverishly to keep from giving up the lead.
The Bearkats finally took advantage of missed shots by ORU and grabbed a 48-45 lead with five to play after a 5-0 run. After a Bell-Holter basket cut it to one, Sam Houston's Baxter hit another triple and scored five-straight to give SHSU its largest lead of the game at 53-47.
Strategy came into play in the final minute and a missed free throw by SHSU left the door open. ORU received additional help as the Bearkats fouled Niles without the clock running. His free throws made it a two-point game with 21.4 seconds to play.
Another mistake on the ensuing inbounds gave the Golden Eagles the ball back with 18.8 to go, still down just two.
Niles tried to finish the job with a drive with less than 10 seconds to play but the ball fell out of bounds and back to Sam Houston.
After a made free throw, ORU had a 3-point attempt to tie with two seconds to play but it rimmed out and the Golden Eagles were eliminated from the tournament in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2009.
At 18-14, the Golden Eagles will have to await a postseason bid or their season will come to a close with the tournament loss.---www.ORUGoldenEagles.com---