By David Coulson. January 24, 2019. BOONE, N. — Coach Angel Elderkin was surprised to return to a somewhat subdued Appalachian State women’s basketball locker room at the Holmes Convocation Center on Thursday night following the Lady Mountaineers’ solid, 75-67 Sun Belt Conference victory over Arkansas State.
COVER IMAGE: It’s a battle underneath between App State’s Bayley Plummer (42) and Arkansas State’s Peyton Martin. Meanwhile Lainey Gosnell (30) looks for three. Photographic image by Bill Barbour for Blowing Rock News
“What’s wrong? Why aren’t you celebrating?” Elderkin asked her team.
Several members of this rapidly-maturing squad had a quick response — they expect to win.
Behind 25 points from senior guard Madi Story and tremendous defensive pressure all night, Appalachian won its third-straight league game to improve to 10-7 overall and 4-2 in the Sun Belt, ahead of a showdown with SBC co-leader Arkansas-Little Rock at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Even another slow offensive start couldn’t subdue the Lady Mountaineers on Thursday. Trailing 7-2 midway through the first quarter, Appalachian got back into the game with the use of a seldom-used zone defense, challenging passing lanes and creating turnovers.
App State took an 18-14 lead at the end of the period and extended it to 35-28 by the half. Then it was tie for Story, last week’s Sun Belt player of the week, to take control in a way that is becoming familiar for the Lady Mountaineers.
Story hit 5-of-7 shots in the third period for 11 points off her patented drives to the basket and pull-up jumpers as Appalachian pulled away. The Red Wolves (8-10, 3-4) made some runs in the fourth stanza, but never got closer than seven points to the lead.
“Don’t jinx me,” Story laughed as she answered a question about her offensive fireworks. “When I score a lot, I don’t really think.”
Thinking, or not, Story followed up her 26-point performance in Saturday’s 67-53 home win over Coastal Carolina with another outstanding performance.
But defense has been the key for this Lady Mountaineer team. Elderkin decided to use a zone primarily against Arkansas State to slow down the Red Wolves’ star player, Peyton Martin, who came in averaging nearly 16 points per game, and to keep Arkansas State away from the free-throw line.
Akasha Westbrook led the Red Wolves with 20 points and Jordan Elder came off the bench for 14, but Martin was just 2-of-9 from the field and finished with six. Mission accomplished.
Despite playing zone for most of the night, Appalachian also dominated the boards, with a 45-32 advantage. Bayley Plummer cleaned the glass for a game-high 15 rebounds.
After the game, the Lady Mountaineers were already thinking about Little Rock (10-8, 6-1).
“We’ve got a really big game on Saturday,” Plummer said. “Little Rock has had our number.”
But with the new mind set at App State, the Lady Mountaineers are playing with a whole new confidence in 2019.