Second-ranked Wayland Baptist exploded for 30 first-quarter points and went on to post a comfortable 99-62 win over Oklahoma-Panhandle State in the opening round of the Sooner Athletic Conference Tournament on Tuesday evening in Hutcherson Center.
“Our defense wasn’t what we wanted, but we shot the ball really well,” Wayland coach Alesha Ellis said following her team’s first game in two weeks.
The win sets up a semifinal match against No. 14 Oklahoma City, an 88-57 winner over Southwestern Christian, in the semifinals on Friday back at the Hutch. Tip-off has been set for 6 p.m. Both the top-seeded Flying Queens (11-0) and fourth-seeded Stars (4-0) are unbeaten. The teams were scheduled to play twice in the regular-season but both games were wiped out by COVID-19 issues.
Friday’s winner advances to Monday’s championship game against either third-seeded USAO (14-3), an 86-62 winner over John Brown, or seventh-seeded Langston (7-6), which upset second-seeded Mid-America Christian (9-2), 75-66. The championship game will be played at Wayland since the Flying Queens are the No. 1 seed, but only if they defeat OCU Friday.
“The thing that’s tricky about them this year is they have a new coach (Brett Tahah). We’re all trying to figure them out this season,” Ellis said. “I do know the players they returned (from last season) are really good. Once they get their identity they will be a very tough team.
“We have to make sure we’re prepared for a team like that and know they are going to give us their best game. Their only way into the national tournament is (winning the SAC Tournament).”
Wayland is assured a trip to nationals as a result of being awarded the top seed based on the regular season. (It was determined the Flying Queens were conference co-champs with MACU.) OCU, meanwhile, must earn the automatic bid that goes to the SAC Tournament winner since the Stars do not meet the 10-game minimum required for an at-large bid to nationals.
Ellis said the Flying Queens will “have to be 100 percent better” against OCU than they were against Panhandle State (5-8).
“We gave up 11 3s, so we have to get better at (guarding) the 3,” Ellis said. “We have to make sure we’re intense and aware at all times on the defensive end about what’s going on. We have to stay focused the whole time. We have gotten better on the defensive end, we just have to continue to get better.”
There wasn’t much wrong with Wayland’s offense Tuesday as the Queens put up 30 first-period points and 29 third-quarter points. WBU shot 52 percent from the field (35-of-67), including 13-of-25 (also 52 percent) from 3-point range where seven different players connected. WBU also hit 84 percent (16-of-19) from the free-throw line.
“Our girls shot the ball really well,” Ellis said.
Kaylee Edgemon, after a two-point first half, wound up leading the way with 18 points. Tayjanna McGhee-Pleasant scored all but two of her 17 in the first half plus pulled down six rebounds and blocked two shots.
“Tay came out really strong. That’s a piece that’s going to be important down the stretch,” Ellis said.
Jenna Cooper added 13 points and seven boards while Payton Brown and freshmen Kaylee Rendon and Kaitlyn Edgemon all had nine points each. Kaitlyn Edgemon also hauled in a team-high eight rebounds and blocked a season-high five shots.
Maybe the most impressive stat, though, were Wayland’s 25 assists, versus just 10 turnovers. The Queens have logged 25, 24 and 25 assists in their last three outings. On Tuesday, Brown and Cooper led the way with seven helpers apiece.
The game was the first for Wayland since Feb. 6 after the team’s last four games were cancelled due to COVID-19 and the weather.
Prior to the game, Jolie Donaldson was the lone Flying Queen recognized on Senior Day. The redshirt junior, a biology major with a 4.0 GPA, is on pace to graduate early as she looks to attend medical school to become a dermatologist.
Kaylee Edgemon is the team’s only true senior, but she is learning toward returning next season as this season does not count against eligibility due to COVID-19.