Gritty Cowboys come up short in SLC tourney, 66-62

KATY, Texas – McNeese State saw its season come to an end after a 66-62 loss to Oral Roberts in the first round of the 2014 Southland Conference Men's Basketball Tournament, but it wasn't for a lack of effort as the Cowboys had ample opportunities to steal the win away from the higher-seeded Golden Eagles despite one of their worst shooting games of the season.

Ledrick Eackles scored a game-high 28 points but didn't began to hit his stride until well into the first half.  That was a half the Cowboys (11-20) had to depend on their defense to keep them in the game as they hit just 23 percent from the field.

"We had our chances," said head coach Dave Simmons who has guided his team to four straight conference tournaments.  "We missed some shots there in the first half that had we made, it could've changed the outcome of the game."

McNeese trailed 16-7 in the first five minutes of the game then went on a run that saw it tie the contest up at 21-21 at the 3:50 mark.  But during that span, the Cowboys missed seven point-blank layups or tip-ins but were able to keep things close at the half by trailing 28-24.

The second half belonged to ORU's Kory Billbury who hit 14 of his 18 points in the second half, including a span where he scored eight straight points for his team that saw ORU build a 47-33 lead with 15:07 to play.

McNeese kept battling back and cut the margin to nine points behind a three-pointer from Shaun Johnson and a Keelan Garrett jumper to make it 47-38 with 13:22 to play.  A 6-0 run by ORU gave the Golden Eagles their largest lead of the game at 53-38 with 9:34 to play, but once again, the Cowboys clawed back into it with a 7-0 run to cut the margin to 53-45 with 7:29 to play.

Eackles, who scored 19 of his 28 points in the second half, hit a three-pointer to cut the lead to 57-50 with 4:29 to play, then a minute later, Pete Kpan knocked down two free throws followed by a three-pointer from Johnson with 3:02 to go to make it a 58-55 game.

ORU's D.J. Jackson, who has made just 20 threes on the season, hit perhaps the biggest shot of the game with 2:24 to play when his 3-pointer put ORU back up by six at 61-55.

Another three by Eackles closed the gap to three points again with 1:22 to play and his final trey with five seconds left made it a 65-62 game before Billbury hit one of two free throws with 2.9 seconds to play to seal the win.

Eackles was the only double-figure scorer for the Cowboys as the team shot a season-low 28.1 percent against conference opponents, making 18 of 64.  McNeese sank 9 of 23 from 3-point range and was 17 of 22 from the free throw line.

The Cowboys held a 45-42 advantage in rebounds with Desharick Guidry pulling down nine as well as Kpan who recorded a career-high nine boards.

Billbury added 12 rebounds to go along with his 18 points to get the double-double.  Shawn Glover had 17 points and Brandon Conley 11.  The Golden Eagles shot 42 percent (24-57) for the game and was 7 of 21 from long range and 11 of 19 at the foul line.

"This hurts to lose to end the season but we'll be back working hard and getting ready for next year," said Kevin Hardy who will be one of three starters to return.