Freshman Dorottya Balla came to the rescue on Thursday night, scoring a career-high 30 points to lead Oral Roberts University past Houston Baptist University, 85-73, at the Mabee Center. With the win, ORU snaps a nine-game losing streak and improves to 2-9 (1-0 Southland Conference).
The rookie from Pecs, Hungary was 9-for-16 from the field, 5-for-8 from three-point range and 7-for-10 from the line. She's the first ORU player to hit the 30-point mark since February 19, 2013, when Kevi Luper scored 33 in her final Mabee Center appearance.
The last player besides Luper to score 30 points for the Golden Eagles was Jaci Bigham, who achieved the feat on December 29, 2010 with 33 points against IPFW.
"I don't care about the number; I just care about wins," Balla said after her career performance. "I just have to thank my teammates for getting me the ball in a position to score."
Balla wasn't the only ORU player to have a big night. Christian Key scored 18 points, to go with six rebounds and six assists, while Noora Jaervikangas also had a superb day. The rookie from Finland scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds, both career bests.
Kaylan Mayberry added 12 points off the bench, while Sarah Shelton grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked five shots.
Houston Baptist (4-8, 0-1 SLC) was led by Shanice Steenholdt, who scored 32 points and ripped down 13 rebounds.
The Golden Eagles shot 48.3% (28-for-58) from the field, which helped them overcome 22 turnovers. HBU shot at a 38.8% (26-for-67) clip.
Thursday's win was the first in the Misti Cussen Era when ORU allows 70 or more points. The Golden Eagles had lost all 16 games when opponents crossed the 70-point mark over the past two seasons.
ORU got off to a great start, scoring the first six points of the game. A Balla jumper with 18:47 left in the first period staked ORU to a 6-0 lead, and an easy victory looked to be in the offing.
That advantage grew after Mayberry came off the bench to provide a spark. The freshman hit a jump shot with 3:56 left in the half to pump the lead up to 31-22.
The Golden Eagles carried a 36-30 lead into halftime. ORU had three players reach double-figures in the opening period, with Balla scoring 13 points and Key and Mayberry adding 10 each.
But the Huskies did not back down and slowly crawled back into the game. The Huskies gained control of the scoreboard with a methodical 16-4 run, using a stifling defense to neutralize the ORU attack briefly. A free throw by Wiebke Bruns gave HBU their biggest lead, at 44-40, with 15:49 left in the game.
ORU showed great poise after falling behind, and they took the lead for good at 50-49 on a Balla free throw with 11:38 left. The lead hit double-digits for the first time with 1:22 left on a pair of Key free throws, and HBU was never able to challenge the home team again.
Freshmen carried the Golden Eagles down the stretch after HBU's rally. Balla scored 13 of her 30 points in the game's final 12 minutes, and Jaervikangas scored 10 of her 15 in the same stretch.
"Our freshman class has had to face some tough competition, but I really feel like they are gaining confidence now, said Cussen. "Our goal was to go 1-0 tonight. We'll enjoy it for 2 hours and get ready for Saturday."
ORU completes the opening weekend of Southland play on Saturday, January 4, when they host Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.