Oklahoma St. 59, Coppin St. 35

An emotionally exhausting nine days for the Oklahoma State

Cowgirls ended Saturday with hugs, tears and a few smiles.

In their first game since a plane crash killed coach Kurt Budke,

assistant coach Miranda Serna and two others, the Cowgirls beat

Coppin State 59-35 behind 17 points from Tiffany Bias.

The Cowgirls celebrated the victory by standing arm in arm on

the floor and singing university’s alma mater with the crowd of

3,557. Interim coach Jim Littell and many of the players then

pointed their index fingers toward the sky and went into the stands

to hug Budke’s wife, Shelley, and other Budke family members, who

attended the game and sat behind the home bench.

Their presence didn’t surprise Bias, a sophomore guard who wrote

”Serna” on one of her orange shoes and ”Budke” on the

other.

”It just shows how much OSU is a family,” Bias said. ”That’s

what the Budke family is. They’re a family, and we’re their

extended family. No matter what the tragedy is . they are going to

come out and support us.”

In the immediate wake of the Nov. 17 crash in Arkansas, Oklahoma

State postponed home games last weekend against Grambling State and

Texas-Arlington, but university officials decided to resume the

Cowgirls’ schedule Saturday, five days after a memorial service for

the victims inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.

”It’s the best therapy we could have,” university President

Burns Hargis said of the Cowgirls’ return to the court. ”I just

think the whole OSU family came together wonderfully. It’s not

going to be easy. There are going to be a lot of tough times ahead

. but if we pull together, we’ll figure out a way to get through

this.”

Littell guided Oklahoma State (2-0) against Coppin State (1-3),

and the Cowgirls made it easy on him, as he never so much as had to

call a timeout. The Cowgirls have won 55 of their last 56

nonconference home games.

”I thought today got much deeper than just the basketball part

of it,” Littell said. ”I thought we had a chance to pay honor

today, and I was very, very proud of our kids. I was very, very

proud of our coaches.

”I just told our players that I’ve been fortunate over the

years to be surrounded by a lot of good players and have a lot of

success. I’ve never been more proud of a group than I was

today.”

Littell called the game ”a step” for the Cowgirls. ”They’ve

gone through a big, big tragedy, but it’s much, much deeper than a

basketball game.”

Sophomore guard Jenni Bryan said since the deaths of Budke and

Serna, players have been trying to practice hard and control their

emotions.

”There’s not one specific kind of emotion you feel,” Bryan

said. ”It changes minute to minute.”

Littell said he’s had to remind the Cowgirls that ”it’s OK to

smile, it’s OK to laugh out there, it’s OK to show positive

emotion. That’s not disrespectful.”

University officials tried to make Saturday’s game as normal as

possible, but there were reminders of Budke, Serna and the other

two crash victims, former state Sen. Olin Branstetter and his wife,

Paula, on display throughout the arena.

The Cowgirls wore patches with the number ”4” on it. Coppin

State players wore orange T-shirts emblazoned with the number ”4”

during warm-ups and many of the Eagles wore orange headbands or

ribbons. Coppin State coach Derek Brown and his assistants all wore

orange ribbons on their lapels.

In one arena lobby, a bouquet of orange and white flowers and a

basketball balloon were placed next to a memorial for the 10 men

connected with Oklahoma State’s men’s basketball program who died

in a plane crash in Colorado in January 2001. In another lobby,

fans signed memory banners, one of which hung from a wall.

The Branstetters’ regular seats in the arena were adorned with

orange-and-black ribbons and a fan across the court held a sign

reading ”We Will Never 4Get.”

The Cowgirls received a standing ovation when they came out to

the court for pregame warm-ups, and again before the game

itself.

Public address announcer Larry Reece stuck to the usual routine

for pregame introductions until after the playing of the national

anthem. While requesting a standing ovation for Budke, Serna and

the Branstetters, Reece asked fans to honor the four ”not with a

moment of silence but with a tribute for winning.” The crowd stood

and roared its approval.

After Vicky McIntyre scored the Cowgirls’ first basket, she

pointed skyward as she ran back down the court.

Oklahoma State closed the first half with a 20-2 run to take a

34-14 lead at the break. The Eagles came no closer than 19 the rest

of the way.

Jeanine Manley led Coppin State with 12 points. The Eagles shot

19 percent from the field (11 of 58) while Oklahoma State shot 32.8

percent (22 of 67).

Littell improved to 514-100 as a college coach, including a

418-61 mark at Seward County (Kan.) Community College and 95-39 at

Friends (Kan.), a four-year NAIA university. He joined Budke as the

Cowgirls’ associate head coach when Budke took the head-coaching

job at Oklahoma State in 2005.