- Mountaineers lose last two games of the regular season
- Apps secure spot in Sun Belt Tournament as eighth seed
- Seniors Keke Cooper and Farrahn Wood play last home game
- App State plays Arkansas State in first round of Sun Belt Tournament
App State vs. UALR
Having the opportunity to clinch a Sun Belt tournament berth with a win, App State women’s basketball (10-18, 7-12 Sun Belt) fell behind early to Little Rock (18-11 16-4 Sun Belt) and was unable to complete a late game comeback falling 72-67 in a strong defensive effort.
The Mountaineers seemed lost to begin the game during the first quarter going on a four minute scoring drought within in the first 10 minutes. App found themselves trailing 20-6 at the end of the first quarter as junior guard Joi Jones had four of the first six points while the team shot 25% from the field.
“We didn’t come out ready to play. We had to be challenged and that shouldn’t be the case,” said sophomore guard Madi Story, who finished with 14 points.
The Mountaineers found themselves in their largest deficit of the game trailing 29-12 with 6:05 to remain in the first half. This marked a 10-2 run by App led by Story and Jones to cut the lead to 11 before ending the first half trailing 35-22.
Shooting only 30.4% from the field during the first half, the Mountaineers saw the opportunity to compete after their late quarter run and knew they could play better.
“There was a sense of urgency. We saw we cut the lead and wanted to finish it off,” Jones said. “They took the first punch and we didn’t respond.”
The second half began perfect for both teams offensively. Both the Mountaineers shot 100% during the first three minutes.
App still trailed Little Rock 47-30 with 6:12 remaining in the third despite much better shooting. “Defensively we struggled until the fourth quarter to match up and get stops,” coach Angel Elderkin said.
“We have been consistently taking certain times of the game off and we can’t do that if we expect to win,” Story said.
Heading into the fourth quarter trailing 57-44, App State awoke for a comeback run to try and end the Trojans 12-game win streak.
Going on a 12-1 run through the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers cut the lead to two, 58-56, with five minutes remaining.
Trailing only by one with 44 seconds to play, Jones drove to the hoop looking for the foul and only came out of it with a turnover.
“Joi has been our go to player down the stretch recently and she wanted to put the team on her back and make that play,” Elderkin said. “At this point I trust her with the basketball in her hands.”
Despite shooting 69.2% and 52.9% in the third and fourth quarter, respectively, the Mountaineers failed to complete the comeback. However, they still clinched a Sun Belt tournament berth with Georgia State losing.
“To score 61 points in three quarters against one of the top defensive teams in the country, is a testament to our team and how they continue to fight,” Elderkin said.
With one regular season game remaining on the schedule against Arkansas State on Saturday, the fight the Mountaineers showed in the fourth quarter will have them ready.
“I think they are coming in scared because we can be two different teams. They don’t know what to expect from us,” Jones said. “We feel we have the momentum.”
App State vs. Arkansas State
For Seniors Keke Cooper and Farrahn Wood, the March 5 game against Sun Belt powerhouse Arkansas State (25-4, 19-1 Sun Belt) was a last chance at glory on their home floor. The Mountaineers came in to Senior Day with a chance at claiming the seventh seed in the Sun Belt tournament with a win against the Red Wolves.
The Mountaineers started strong, keeping pace with A-State early, trailing 23-21 after the first quarter. The Apps were able to hang tough thanks to Madi Story scoring 10 of her 22 in the first period.
The second quarter featured much of the same, with neither team able to jump out in front despite a 10 rebound advantage at the half for the Red Wolves, a surprise when considering The Mountaineers are a better rebounding team than Arkansas State.
“They did a great job at boxing us out,” Appalachian head coach Angel Elderkin said. “People know the key to stopping us is to box us out and they did a great job.”
Despite the rebounding deficit the Mountaineers only trailed by 1 at the half, 36-35, thanks in large part to Farrahn Wood. Wood helped Story carry the scoring burden early, scoring all 11 of her points before the second half. The two combined for 23 of the team’s 35 first half points.
It wasn’t until halfway through the third quarter that the Red Wolves were able to break free from the Mountaineers. With App leading 50-46 at the 4:44 mark, Arkansas State would go on a 17-4 run over the next three-and-a-half minutes, keyed by four 3-point baskets.
“They were able to make threes,” Elderkin said. “We’re not the kind of basketball team to trade 3-ball for 3-ball and they did a good job of knocking down key shots.”
Instrumental in the Red Wolves’ attack was Senior stand out Khadija Brown-Haywood. Brown-Haywood went 8-14 from the field, including 5-6 from three for 23 points in just 28 minutes.
Despite the Red Wolves hot shooting, the Mountaineers would hang around and make a game of it in the fourth quarter behind the efforts of Joi Jones and Kaila Craven. Jones and Craven scored six and seven points respectively in the final period, accounting for almost all of their team’s scoring.
The Apps were able to cut the lead to 6 with 43 seconds left in the game after having been down by as many as 13 earlier, but couldn’t complete the come back, losing 83-74.
With the loss, the Mountaineers are slotted for the eighth seed in the conference tournament, and will take on Arkansas State again when the two meet up in New Orleans, Wednesday, March 9, at 11:30 a.m.
The meeting will be the two team’s third this season, and will be one that Elderkin’s squad is prepared for.
“We don’t have to come in Monday and start preparing for the tournament, we spent the last week preparing for the two teams we could have faced, and we played both of them extremely well,” Elderkin said. “Now we can take the next couple of days, rest, take care of us, and I think our team has confidence.”
Wood and KeKe Cooper are aware that their basketball days are almost over, but are looking forward to having another chance to knock off the best team in the league.
“The second time playing all the teams [in the conference] has been so much better than the first,” Wood said. “We have learned a lot.”
Story by: Jason Huber, Senior Sports Reporter and Lee Sanderlin, Sports Editor