Arkansas State had the ball with six seconds left and a chance to win the game.
The visiting Red Wolves, who had been back and forth with the Oklahoma State women’s basketball team throughout the game, took the ball down the court looking for the upset. They took too much time and saw the clock above the basket in Gallagher-Iba Arena go to zeroes, sealing the Cowgirls’ 62-60 victory.
Friday’s game gave OSU its 13th consecutive season-opening win. Sophomore Braxtin Miller paced the Cowgirls with 23 points, and LaTashia Jones dominated the glass with 21 rebounds.
The game was much closer than what Jim Littell, OSU’s coach, and the Cowgirls would’ve liked, though.
“I think instead of playing to win the game, we were playing not to lose the game,” Littell said.
The Cowgirls started the day efficiently on defense, forcing ASU to start 0-for-8 from the field in the first quarter. Behind some early scoring from Jones, OSU led 19-13 at the end of that quarter, the only one in which the Cowgirls had more points than the Red Wolves.
Offensive struggles then hit OSU, as there was a six-plus minute stretch in the second quarter where it failed to register a point. That opened the door for the scrappy Sun Belt conference team to keep it close. ASU found some scoring output and headed into the locker room at the half down by just five.
The Cowgirls’ problems continued in the second half, which led to the Red Wolves taking their first lead of the day with just more than five minutes left in the third quarter. OSU and ASU swapped the lead six times the rest of the way.
With the game close heading into the final quarter, Miller said she knew she needed to step up to pull out a victory. Miller, a sophomore guard, swished three 3-pointers and took a charging foul in a span of three minutes to help widen the Cowgirls’ lead to 16 with just more than five minutes left.
“I just kind of knew we needed to do something to jump ahead a little bit,” Miller said. “We needed some sort of spark.”
Often, with that big of a lead and that little time, the winning team puts on the cruise control.
ASU denied OSU of that privilege.
The Red Wolves kept chipping away at the lead, and soon, it was just a two-point advantage for OSU with less than a minute left. The Red Wolves were unsuccessful in their final push but gave the Cowgirls a challenge.
“We made some fouls down near the end that were not good fouls,” Littell said. “We just were trying to sit on it and be cautious, and maybe we should’ve stayed in more of an attack mode.”
One of the defining points of the game was the rebounding, as OSU outrebounded ASU by 11. The Cowgirls had 21 offensive rebounds, allowing them to put up more shots on a day where both teams shot below 35 percent.
“It was the difference in the ball game,” Littell said. “They had 55 shots, and we had 70.”
Despite it coming down to the wire, Friday’s matchup was a contest the young Cowgirl squad can learn from, and Miller was the first to say it in postgame interviews.
“We have a lot to improve on,” Miller said. “It was the first game, so we can always get better. We just have to remember to stay calm and stay true to what we do and keep moving.”