CEDAR CITY, Utah – Playing without two-time Summit League Player of the Year Kevi Luper, Oral Roberts University scratched out a 54-47 victory over Southern Utah University on Saturday night at Centrum Arena. With the win, ORU closes the regular season with a 20-9 overall record and a 14-4 mark in the Summit League.
The victory clinches ORU's third straight 20-win season. The Golden Eagles are also assured of the second seed in the upcoming Summit League Tournament by virtue of South Dakota State's victory on Saturday.
ORU won despite shooting just 28.1%. But SUU shot just 26.7%, including a 4-for-26 (15.4%) mark in the second half.
Georgia Jones led ORU with 14 points. Bernadett Balla and Jaci Bigham added 11 points each, while Jordan Pyle nearly racked up a double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds.
Key reserve Savanna Buck also missed Saturday's game. Both Luper and Buck are expected to return for ORU's Summit League Tournament opener on Saturday, March 3.
Carli Moreland led the Thunderbirds (6-23, 2-16 Summit League) with 16 points, just two of them coming after halftime.
The Golden Eagles took their first lead of the game at the 13:53 mark of the first half. A pair of free throws by Jones put ORU on top by a 9-8 count.
SUU rallied to move in front in the later stages of the half. Tayler Anderson capped an 11-0 run with a spinning basket at the 2:35 mark to give the home side a 28-20 advantage.
A basket by Moreland at the halftime whistle gave the T-Birds a 33-22 lead at the break.
ORU's first half numbers painted a grisly picture. The Golden Eagles were 7-for-32 (21.9%) from the field and turned the ball over nine times in the opening period.
Pyle scored a basket on ORU's opening possession of the half as ORU tried to kick start a rally, and the Golden Eagles opened the period on a 12-2 run. A Jones three at the 9:30 mark cut the ORU gap to 35-34.
SUU did not hit a second half field goal until the 9:01 mark of the second half, but it came at a big time. Andrea Jones scored an old-fashioned three-point play that made the score 38-34 and slowed ORU's momentum momentarily.
ORU scored the next four points however. Bigham stole the ball away from SUU under her own basket and laid it in at the 8:07 mark to tie the game at 38, and the Golden Eagles could sense a victory.
That instinct was the right one. A free throw by Pyle gave ORU their first lead of the second half at 41-40, and Jones drained a massive jumper at the 3:12 mark to give Jerry Finkbeiner's club a 45-40 advantage.
SUU was never able to regain the lead. Free throws down the stretch by Balla, Bigham and Christian Key iced the game for ORU.
The Golden Eagles outscored Southern Utah in the second half, 32-14.
ORU has not posted three consecutive 20-win seasons since the 1979-80 campaign.
Bigham was a defensive ace in Luper's absence. The junior netted a season-high six steals and also led the team with three assists.
ORU enters the Summit League tournament on a five-game winning streak, matching their longest positive stretch of the season.
Now assured of the second seed in the Summit League Tournament, ORU will look ahead to the conference's season-ending event. The Golden Eagles will face a yet-to-be-determined seventh seed on Saturday, March 3 in Sioux Falls. Tip-off is scheduled for 2:30 pm CT.