Wayland Baptist fought off a spirited charge by Langston (Okla.) as the second-ranked Flying Queens secured their third straight Sooner Athletic Conference Tournament championship on Monday night in Hutcherson Center with a hard-earned 71-63 victory.
Top-seeded Wayland (12-0) led by 20 early in the second half, and No. 7 seed Langston (8-7) seemed to be outmatched. But the Lady Lions, after making just one of their first 21 shots to start the game, came storming back.
After outscoring Wayland 26-12 in the third, Langston was within four going into the final 10 minutes. The Lady Lions made it a one-point game, 64-63, with 1:21 to play. But the Flying Queens – with tournament MVP Kaylee Edgemon and all-tournament Tayjanna McGhee-Pleasant showing the way – scored the final seven points of the game to secure the crown.
The SAC Tourney title is Wayland’s third straight, fourth in six years and fifth all-time, having won its first in 1998.
The Flying Queens now gear up for the NAIA National Championships, their eighth in as many years under head coach Alesha Ellis. Pairings will be announced at 6 p.m. Thursday.
The tournament begins with opening round pod tournaments to be played at campus sites across the country March 12 and 13. The winners of those advance to nationals in Sioux City, Iowa, March 18-23.
By virtue of advancing to the tournament championship against regular-season co-champion and No. 1 seed Wayland, Langston also is headed to nationals, for the first time since 2016.
The Lady Lions were making their first-ever appearance in the conference tournament final, having knocked off No. 2 seed Mid-America Christian in the quarterfinals and No. 3 seed Science & Arts of Oklahoma in the semis.
At first it didn’t appear Langston belonged in the same gym with Wayland. But much like their regular-season game when the Flying Queens opened up a large early lead before having to hang on down the stretch, Monday’s contest got interesting in a hurry.
After shooting just 5 percent from the field (1-of-20) in the first quarter, the Lady Lions suddenly got hot after halftime, making 11-of-22 attempts in the third while also ramping up the defensive pressure.
Langston got within four, but Wayland managed to break back out to an 11-point lead midway through the fourth. The Lady Lions refused to throw in the towel, though, and went on a 10-2 run – which included a pair of 3-pointers by Asheika Alexander, to close to within two.
Wayland rediscovered itself just in time, with Edgemon scoring on the last of a handful of fast-break buckets on which her freshman sister Kaitlyn assisted. Kaylee then knocked down a pair of free throws after hauling in an offensive rebound, and when Langston failed to score on a second possession, McGhee-Pleasant drained a pair of free throws when she was fouled following the last of her 16 rebounds.
That made it a seven-point game, and when Langston missed yet again, a free throw by Jenna Cooper with 8 seconds to play ended the scoring.
McGhee-Pleasant was dominant in the first half, recording a dozen rebounds and eight points. She finished with 16 boards and added the two late free throws to her point total. Payton Brown scored just three points but pulled down seven rebounds, registered five steals and had four assists in playing 39 minutes.
Wayland won despite hitting just 2-of-13 3-pointers.
The Lady Lions were paced by all-tournament selection Alexander, a senior forward who led all scorers with 30 points, including four 3-pointers. Alexander also had 11 rebounds in her 37 minutes of action. Talia Edwards and Orionna Shirley chipped in eight points apiece.
Joining Alexander on the all-tournament team for Langston was Adia Rogers.
All-Sooner Athletic Conference Tournament
MVP: Kaylee Edgemon, Sr., Wayland Baptist
Zaria Dorsey, Jr., Science & Arts of Oklahoma
Asheika Alexander, Sr., Langston
Tayjanna McGhee-Pleasant, So., Wayland Baptist
Adia Rogers, So., Langston
Abby Selzer, Jr., Oklahoma City