BOONE, N.C. – Appalachian State University women’s basketball (1-2) earned a gritty 68-65 victory over UNCG (1-2) on Thursday evening in the home opener at the Holmes Center.
Lainey Gosnell (Demorest, Ga./Habersham Central) went a stellar 8-for-8 from the charity stripe with three buckets en route to a team and season-high 14 points with five boards. Pre Stanley (Rockledge, Fla./Rockledge) stepped up with 13 points and also went unblemished with a 6-for-6 showing from the charity stripe and five rebounds. Madi Story (Maiden, N.C./Bandys) rounded out the leading scorers with a season-best 11 points, led the team with seven rebounds and shot 7-of-7 from the line.
Ashley Polacek (Ottawa, Canada/UCF) led the team with four assists and tallied nine points including a 4-of-4 outing at the line. The quartet of Gosnell, Stanley, Story, and Polacek went a remarkable 25-of-25 from the charity stripe.
On a night when the Mountaineers weren’t hitting their shot attempts, shooting under 33 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point land, they needed to hit their free throw more than ever. The Black and Gold finished 25-of-28 (89.3%) highlighted by a 10-of-10 stretch over the final 2:56 of the game that played a pivotal role in the Apps’ 11th straight win against UNCG dating back to the 2009-10 season.
In a thrilling finish that saw App State hold on to the victory, the Spartans made it interesting over the final 18 seconds of the game. With Appalachian leading 64-60, Nadine Soliman hit a 3-pointer to cut the App lead to just one, 64-63. Polacek stepped up cashing a pair at the line that capped off four straight foul shots to give the Black and Gold a 66-63 edge. App State and UNCG traded free throws on both ends including another critical set of freebies from Story to push the lead to 68-65 before stopping UNCG from getting off a clean look at the tie.
It was a close second half with neither team holding a lead by more than four points. After coming out of the break with a 31-28 lead, App State put together an 11-6 run over the first 4:23 of the third period to take a 39-37 lead. After the Spartans went up 37-34, a 5-0 spurt highlighted the run thanks to a 3-pointer by Tierra Wilson (Winston-Salem, N.C./RJ Reynolds) and a layup from Gosnell that capped off the surge. Both teams went back and forth over the last half of the third frame.
UNCG went up by three once again before Nicola Mathews (Adelaide, Australia/College of Central Florida) canned a trey that tied up the game. Neither team gained separation with the score tied up going into the fourth quarter, 48-48.
Leading 53-52, Stanley hit her only 3-pointer of the game from the right corner to extend the edge to four, 56-52. But the Spartans scored the next four points to tie up the game. Polacek and Gosnell collected the next four points to give App the lead for good, 60-56 before the Mountaineers hit their barrage of free throws to pull away.
UNCG held the lead for a majority of the first half thanks to a 14-5 start in the opening 4:48 of the game. But the bench gave a spark to the offense with Wilson hitting her one of two 3-pointers to bring App to within six and Mathews finding Maya Calder (Landover, Md./National Christian Academy) in transition followed by a Bayley Plummer (Thomasville, N.C./East Davidson) layup that put the mark on a 7-0 run. App went into the second period trailing by just two points, 18-16.
Trailing 28-22 late in the second half, Stanley helped app scored six of the next nine points with four of her own and Dominique Jeffery (Tallahassee, Fla./FAMU DRS) ending the half with a layup to give App some momentum going into the locker room.
Appalachian’s defense held the Spartans’ leading scorer in Soliman in check. Soliman came into the game ranked 8th in the nation averaging 28 points per game and 49 percent shooting to just 15 points on 5-of-13 from the floor. Aja Boyd led the visitors with 18 points, Te’Ja Twitty posted 17 points.
The Mountaineers for the third straight game outrebounded their opponent with a 44-37 edge, highlighted by five different Mountaineers pulling down at least five boards.
Appalachian’s bench outscored UNCG, 17-2, with Calder and Wilson chipping in with six points and Mathews being responsible for nine points (3 points, 3 assists) and Jeffery tallying a field goal.
The Mountaineers will look to keep the momentum alive on Saturday as they face Davidson with a 7 p.m. tip on the road.
“We’ve been working at our free throw shooting during the offseason, and it really paid off tonight. The way we finished from the line down the stretch shows the hard work the players have put in
the gym with their free throw shooting. This was a gritty win for us and a great experience to close out a game like this that came down to the wire.” – Head Coach Angel Elderkin.
– The 25 free throws made are the most since the 2016-17 season when the Apps hit 26 against ULM
– App State assisted on 12 of its 19 (63.1 percent) field goals
– Story led the team with a plus-11
– Appalachian is 34-28 all-time against UNCG and 25-12 in home openers
– Story is now 100 points away from the 1,000-point club