The McNeese women's basketball team snapped a four-game losing streak and earned its first victory over a Division I team this season as a late Rayah Haynes three-point play helped give the Cowgirls a 72-69 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Sunday afternoon at the H&HP Complex.
It had been just over two calendar years since the Cowgirls had defeated a non-conference Division I opponent; on Nov. 26, 2017, McNeese defeated ULM 65-61 in Lake Charles. Sunday's win broke an 18-game losing streak against non-conference Division I competition.
"What a great win for our group," McNeese head coach Kacie Cryer said. "We had to fight a lot of adversity today. We found a way to win."
Some of the adversity Cryer referred to was the absence of Sky Jasper (knee) and Shaela Gardner (fever). Along with post Maia Robinson and guard Jordyn Cross, who have been out for most of the season, no Jasper and Gardner meant that McNeese went with an eight-player rotation against ULM.
But the lack of depth didn't seem to affect the Cowgirls for most of the game. In the first quarter, McNeese built a lead as big as 11 points with about a minute remaining before the Warhawks ended the quarter on a 4-0 run to cut McNeese's lead to 19-12.
McNeese was able to push its lead to double-digits in the second quarter and kept it there for most of the period. At one point in the second quarter, the Cowgirls built a 38-23 lead thanks to a Divine Tanks layup, their largest lead of the quarter.
"We came out, we really played a great first half," Cryer said.
In the third quarter, ULM slowly started to chip away at McNeese's lead. The Cowgirls led by 15 multiple times in the third period, but the Warhawks played strong to end it and got a three-pointer from Linda van Schaik to beat the third quarter buzzer and cut McNeese's lead down to 59-50.
ULM also started the fourth quarter well, going on a 6-2 run to close McNeese's lead down to 61-56, which was the closest the Warhawks had been since the start of the game. That prompted McNeese to call a timeout, and the Cowgirls responded with a 6-0 run to push their lead back to double digits with 6:30 remaining in the game.
Just as they had earlier in the half, ULM kept fighting and clawing back, a lot of it thanks to the full-court press helping fluster the Cowgirls late in the game. Even with that, McNeese seemed prime to roll to victory after a Tanks layup put the Cowgirls up 69-60 with just over three minutes remaining. Neither team scored for over a minute, until a Gara Beth Self layup not only cut McNeese's lead to 69-62, it also sparked a Warhawk run. The Cowgirls turned the ball over on four consecutive possessions and ULM turned that into nine points, highlighted by a van Schaik three to tie the game at 69.
"Basketball is a game about rhythm, and it is a game about runs," senior Bre'Ashlee Jones said of ULM's late run to tie the game. "Teams are going to go on runs. But that's when your captains come up, and we pull each other together, and we let everybody know that this is a part of the game."
With no time to feel sorry for themselves, McNeese came down on the next possession and Haynes drove to the basket and made a tough layup as she fell and got fouled. Haynes also made the free throw to put the Cowgirls up 72-69 with under 10 seconds remaining.
Knowing that ULM needed three to tie the game, McNeese switched on every screen and eliminated all of the Warhawk perimeter options. ULM wanted to go to van Schaik again, but she was closely guarded and shot an airball with the game clock going down. Solid defense sealed the victory for McNeese.
The win was also significant for Cryer and McNeese because it was the first time she had faced current ULM and former McNeese head coach Brooks Donald Williams as a head coach herself.
Both Cryer and Jones acknowledged how big the win was, but also said they can't dwell on it too long.
"I mean it's a (relief)," Jones said of the win. "We know we got a mindset to where this is our beginning to us coming up. Because we put the work in, we put endless hours in the gym, we put endless hours in practice. We go hard 100 percent of the time. Now, we see ourselves as players, that, we can do this you guys."
Jones was one of four McNeese players to score in double figures, and she also had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Callie Maddox led the Cowgirls with 16 points and Haynes finished with 11.