By David Coulson. January 27, 2018. BOONE, NC — There are moments in every college basketball game that are definitive and occasionally those instants can transcend a team’s season.
While it is too soon to know how Saturday afternoon’s performance will impact the rest of the Appalachian State women’s basketball season, the quick-release, three-point bomb from the wing by Nicola Mathews with 11 seconds left and the shot clock reaching zero helped lift the Lady Mountaineers to a 68-66 Sun Belt Conference victory over Arkansas State at the Holmes Convocation Center.
App State (6-15 overall, 4-6 in conference) then survived a wild finish that included a lengthy officials’ review when one referee signaled the game was over and another ruled that the Mountaineer center Bayley Plummer had committed a foul on the final play of the game as Arkansas State’s Akasha Westbrook put up a runner as the buzzer sounded.
After the replay showed that Westbrook had not been fouled until after time expired, Appalachian finally exhaled with the win that snapped its three-game losing streak.
While Mathews claimed the late heroics, it was Lainey Gosnell that provided many of the crucial plays through the rest of the contest. Gosnell wounded the Red Wolves with dagger-like precision and repeatedly contributed momentum-shifting moments, hitting 6-of-9 three-point shots — including 4-of-6 in the first half — for a game-high 18 points.
Gosnell was the first to admit she had been in a shooting slump for much of the season.
“I was struggling and frustrated,” the 6-foot-1 senior swing player said. “Honestly, I wasn’t shooting the ball that well in warmups. I just got in the gym (the day before in practice) and got up a lot of shots. It’s just a mental thing, you just shoot and play basketball.”
Once she entered the game, Gosnell quickly became Appalachian’s biggest offensive threat and her treys seemed to come at the biggest moments of a game filled with sudden momentum shifts.
Half of them were running the ‘man’ play and half were running the zone play.
It was a nip and tuck contest after Appalachian jumped to a quick start in building a seven-point lead in the first quarter. The lead changed hands six times and was tied on six other occasions as the two teams played at the top of their respective games.
“I wasn’t going to evaluate today’s game based on whether Nic’s shot went down,” App State coach Angel Elderkin said. “I thought from start to finish, our team did exactly what we asked them to do. They played the way they are capable of playing.”
Neither team led by more than three points in the fourth period and Arkansas State forged the final deadlock with Westbrook’s driving lay-in at the 44-second mark.
The Mountaineers looked disjointed on the next offensive possession and Elderkin finally called a time out with 24 seconds remaining to regroup. Not sure if Arkansas State would run a zone, or man-to-man defense after the time out, Elderkin designed a play for each defense.
With the ball in Pree’s hands, anything can happen because Pree is such a creator.
The execution didn’t work out exactly as the fourth-year App State coach expected.
“Half of them were running the man play and half of them were running the zone,” Elderkin said with a hearty laugh.
With the shot clock winding down and the Red Wolves in a 1-2-2 zone, freshman LaPresha Stanley ended the confusion by rifling a pass to Mathews, who had spotted up on the left wing, with Arkansas State’s Lycia Peevy leaping out to put a hand in Mathews’ face, the Australian sophomore launched a rainbow that soared over the long arm of Peevy and settled perfectly through the net for a 67-64 App lead.
“With the ball in Pree’s hands, anything could happen, because Pree is such a creator” said Mathews. “With her ability to score, she could do it every time and she is unselfish enough to pass. Something was going through my head. I knew she was going to pass it to me and I was ready to shoot.”
It was the first game-winning shot that Mathews had hit at any level of competition, she said.
But a lot can still happen in 11 seconds and in this game, it did.
Payton Tennyson clanked a 23-foot trey for the Red Wolves on the other end before Starr Taylor grabbed an offensive rebound and followed with the put-back to cut the edge to 67-66 and Arkansas State called time out with 2.7 seconds left.
People see the double-doubles, but they don’t see what she does for our defense. She laid it on the line for us.
Mathews was fouled with 1.7 seconds to go, converted the first free throw and missed the second, allowing the Red Wolves to rebound and call another time out with 1.3 seconds. The time out allowed Arkansas State to advance the ball to mid-court for the in-bounds play.
Westbrook (17 points) received the pass near the free throw line and knifed through the lane before drawing contact with Appalachian center Bayley Plummer on a running, one-handed shot. But the replay made it clear that Westbrook hadn’t gotten up her effort before the buzzer and the Mountaineers escaped with the win.
Plummer, the 6-4 Mountaineer sophomore post player, had a huge effort defensively, shutting off the Red Wolves’ interior attack, while also contributing 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“People see the double-doubles, but they don’t see what she does for our defense,” Elderkin said. “She laid it on the line for us.”
Tierra Wilson, the leading scorer on the season for App State, also scored 12 points, though she was just 5-for-13 from the field. Jada Ford matched Westbrook with 17 and Tennyson added 10 for Arkansas State.
“We definitely needed to win to build confidence,” Gosnell said.
And who knows what is next for Appalachian after defeating one of the Sun Belt’s top four teams and heading off on a three-game conference road swing.
“As a group, we’re learning, we’re growing and today was just another huge growth moment for our program,” Elderkin said.