After perhaps the roughest nine-day stretch imaginable for the Oklahoma State Cowgirl basketball squad, the team laced them up and returned to action. After an emotional week filled of disbelief, sadness, mourning for the four lost in a Thursday plane crash, the ladies got back to basketball in an afternoon home game against Coppin State.
The Oklahoma State family was out in full support, with Travis Ford's men's basketball team sitting behind the OSU bench, among other athletes like Cowboy footballer Jamie Blatnick and others. The families of Kurt Budke, along with the Brandstetter's son were in attendance, supporting the team and receiving their own dose of love and support from the sizable crowd of 3,557 fans. As was seen at the memorial service on Monday, Larry Reece, the voice of the Cowboys, boomed over the PA to stand up and give a cheer after the starting lineups were read - a moment of celebration for the fallen four rather than a moment of silence.
As the radio broadcast wrapped up the game, the sentiment in the arena was ever-present as the announcers finished with, "Your Cowgirls are winners... for Kurt, Miranda and the Brandstetters."
After the last buzzer sounded and the tradition of singing the alma mater at midcourt was finished, another round of applause was given, another moment of celebration was had - and this one all the more personal. In something I have never in my life seen before, the entire team, players and staff alike, went directly up in the stands to the Budke family and gave hugs to Kurt's wife, three children and parents.
"It really meant a lot to all the girls," Lindsey Keller said of the moment in the stands after the game. "It was for him (Budke) and Coach Serna and we just want to honor them and show our respect. We love them."
Many cheers and a few tears rained down from all the fans for the act of kindness and love that was continued on to those courtside. Players lingered around the court, giving high fives and thanks to those who came to the game, hugging fans with smiles on their faces. Along with showing respect, the process of mending the broken hearts of everyone in the Cowgirl family was seen.
"The healing process, I believe, started today," interim head coach Jim Littell reflected after the game.
Indeed, this day at Gallagher-Iba Arena was about far more than basketball. But there was a little of that to be seen too. The Cowgirls' first game under Littell and first action in 13 days started off at a sluggish pace, something the staff expected after this week.
"Our team was emotionally and physically drained," Littell said. "That's fine. There would be something wrong if we weren't."
Despite the initial moments of offensive sluggishness and poor execution, OSU found their rhythm to manufacture points on offense and create turnovers on defense, ending the game with 17 takeaways. The low-scoring start saw neither team hit the double-digit mark until the clock read 11:41. The second half of the first frame was when the Cowgirls began to acquire baskets as OSU led 34-14 at the break. The Cowgirls continued utilizing their strength and speed in the second half to power to the 59-35 win.
Sophomore point guard Tiffany Bias led all scorers with 17 points and five assists. OSU got nearly half of their points from outside of the arc, going 8-of-25 from long range to account for a large chunk of the Cowgirl offense. The OSU defense stifled the Eagles, holding Coppin State to 19% shooting on the night. The visitors were 1-of-12 from 3-point range and got one third of their points from the free throw line.
Vicky McIntyre and Keller led the way on the glass, scooping up seven rebounds each. Toni Young's suspension levied by Budke before the season began was completed in the eyes of Littell as she added four points and three rebounds in 11 minutes for the Cowgirls.
But again, this day was about more than basketball, as a not necessarily pretty win evoked emotions of pride out of the new man at the helm of the program.
"I've been fortunate enough over the last 34 years to be surrounded by a lot of good coaches, a lot of good players and successes, but I don't know if I've ever been prouder of a team," Littell said. "It really shows what the Cowgirl family and the OSU family are all about."