NEW ORLEANS – Appalachian State University women’s basketball (18-14) fell to Little Rock (20-10), 80-64, on Friday afternoon in the Sun Belt Semifinals at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans.
App State will wait to hear the possibility of a postseason tournament with the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) and Women’s Basketball Invitational (WBI) being the two possibilities.
The Mountaineers were neck-and-neck with the regular season conference champions, but a dry spell in the fourth quarter and 26 second-chance points off 15 offensive rebounds from Little Rock doomed the Black and Gold.
Four players scored in double figures with Pre Stanley (Rockledge, Fla./Rockledge) pouring in a game-high 17 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the floor. Lainey Gosnell (Demorest, Ga./Habersham Central) poured in 14 points with four of her five shots coming from behind the arc. Bayley Plummer (Thomasville, N.C./East Davidson) shot 5-of-5 from the field en route to 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Madi Story (Maiden, N.C./Bandys) tallied 10 points and dished out four assists, while Ashley Polacek (Ottawa, Canada/UCF) rounded out the leading scorers with nine points on top of a team-best five helpers.
The Mountaineers shot a season-high 51 percent from the field and was 8-for-20 from 3-point range against the top defensive team in the Sun Belt. It’s just the third time an opponent has shot at least 50 percent against the Trojans.
App State got off to a slow start with the Trojans jumping out to an 8-2 lead in the first 3:48 contest. After a 30-second timeout, Gosnell hit a trifecta before Stanley canned two at the line to bring the deficit to one, 8-7. LR cushioned its advantage to five points, 20-15. However, Stanley ended the period with four straight points to dwindle the gap to just one, 20-19.
A bucket from Tierra Wilson (Winston-Salem, N.C./RJ Reynolds) and a layup from Plummer on back-to-back possessions gave Appalachian its only lead of the game, 23-22. LR retook the lead but the Mountaineers stayed on their heels for the rest of the half. After the Trojans went up 34-28, App five of the final seven points with the help of a Story field goal and another trey from Gosnell to bring the score to 36-33 at the half. Both offenses displayed solid execution with LR shooting 54% and App State posting a 51 percent shooting clip. The Mountaineers shot 55 percent in the second period.
Both teams traded a pair of baskets in the early goings of the second half. Little Rock went up by as much as eight, 53-45, with 2:41 left in the third quarter. Went it looked like LR was about to pull away, the Black and Gold put together an 8-2 surge after Story hit a 3-pointer to spark the burst. Stanley followed up with a jumper before Gosnell tied up the game with a 3-pointer. LR scored on the final possession to go into the fourth quarter up, 57-55.
The Mountaineers closed it to 59-58 after Story went 1-of-2 from the line. However, LR forced App to go scoreless over the next 2:54 while scoring the next six points to go up, 65-68. Appalachian came to within six points, 67-61 after Story reached double figures. The Trojans pulled away as Appalachian went cold on offense for the next 3:04, which led to LR going up by double digits and sealing the win.
Kyra Collier (25 points), Ronjanae DeGray (19 points) and Raeyana DeGray (17 points) did the damage for the Trojans.
Despite the loss, Appalachian won two Sun Belt Tournament games and advanced to the semifinals for the first time since joining the league. The 10-win turnaround this season is the highest win improvement in the conference and the 18 wins are the most since the 2012-13 season. The Mountaineers finish the season winning six of their final eight games, playing their best basketball down the stretch.