The Oral Roberts men's basketball team was tested late but never trailed as they downed seventh-seeded McNeese State 66-62 in the first round of the Southland Conference Tournament at the Merrell Center.
ORU (17-15) led by as many at 15 in the game but had it trimmed to three in the final minutes. The Golden Eagles were led by Korey Billbury's 18-point, 12-rebound performance, with 15 of Billbury's points coming after halftime. Shawn Glover added 17 and Brandon Conley scored 11 and grabbed eight boards in the win.
The Golden Eagles shot 42 percent (24-57) for the game with seven 3-pointers, but struggled from the line, shooting just 58 percent (11-19) from the charity stripe.
McNeese (11-20) saw its season come to an end despite hitting nine 3-pointers, with half of their baskets coming from behind the arc. The Cowboys, led by Ledrick Eackles' 28 points, shot just 28 percent (18-64) from the field and 39 percent (9-23) from 3-point range.
The Cowboys held a 45-42 rebounding edge, and despite grabbing 21 offensive rebounds, turned those into just eight second-chance points.
After trading baskets in the early going to the tune of a 7-7 tie, ORU put together a 9-0 run to make it 16-7 six minutes into the game. ORU gained the advantage, which proved to be the largest of the half, on a 3-pointer by Billbury. It was the first basket from someone other than Glover and Conley, who combined to score the first 13 for ORU.
The three also proved to be the last points for ORU for more than seven minutes as the Golden Eagles suffered a scoring drought of 7:14, allowing McNeese to hang around.
Despite getting things going again, the Cowboys out-scored ORU 14-5 and tied the game back at 21, and again at 23.
A layup by Drew Wilson started a quick spurt from ORU over the final 2:34 of the half, scoring five of the last six points of the half to take a 28-24 lead into the break.
The second half was a game of runs and thanks to a pair of Billbury 3-pointers, ORU out-scored the Cowboys 13-5 in the early going of the half to make it 41-29.
Midway through the half, a Glover dunk capped a 6-0 run by the Golden Eagles to make it a 15-point game, 53-38.
McNeese answered right back with a 7-0 run of its own to get the lead back down to eight, and long 3-pointers down the stretch got the Cowboys all the way back to within 3. A Shawn Johnson trey made it 58-55 with three minutes to play, but D.J. Jackson answered right back with his lone basket of the game to push it back to a six-point advantage.
Despite going just 3-9 from the free throw line in the final minute, ORU got a pair from Bobby Word with 39 seconds to go to keep it a six point game, allowing the Golden Eagles to grab the victory.
ORU advances in the tournament to face No. 3 Sam Houston State at 7:30 p.m.