By David Rogers. January 26, 2019. BOONE, NC — Writing off a 74-59 drubbing at the hands of Arkansas – Little Rock as a “character-building” experience is probably the best course of action for Appalachian State head coach Angel Elderkin. The Trojans went on a 19-6 run in the first seven minutes of Saturday afternoon’s matinee at the Holmes Center and never looked back. With a little more than four minutes remaining in the game, Little Rock led by as many as 25 before the Mountaineers started looking like a respectable opponent.
COVER IMAGE: Point guard Ashley Polacek (23) defended by her Little Rock counterpart, Sydney Chastain. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Appalachian had a few inspirational moments, but they were few and far between. The first occurred with 2:13 left in the first half when 6-4 junior center and Sun Belt Conference-leading rebounder Bayley Plummer collected an offensive rebound, settled the ball near the left side of the lane with her back to the basket, and delivered a no-look pass to a wide-open Pre Stanley on the left side and behind the 3-point arc. Stanley, the 5-9 sophomore guard from Rockledge, FL launched a high-arching shot that caught nothing but net. The play had the potential to inspire an otherwise lackluster performance by the Mountaineers up to that point, but it was not to be.
A second “moment” for App State was a series of “picks” executed by 5-10 junior forward Armani Hampton. There may not be a statistic kept for such selfless plays, but in every case Hampton’s body blocks vs. a Trojan defender allowed a Mountaineer teammate to dribble to space — or take a pass in space — and take advantage of a “good look” shot opportunity.
In response to a Blowing Rock News question after the game, Little Rock head coach Joe Foley, now in his 16th year at the helm of Arkansas’ third-largest university (Enrollment: 15,179), said later that the key to his team’s defensive success was taking the Mountaineers “out of system”, disrupting their offensive attack and the “things they like to do.”
In the Mountaineers’ last three games (all wins), redshirt senior guard Madi Story averaged 21.7 points per outing, including 51% from the field and 42.9% from behind the arc. App State’s star offensive threat still got 20 on the afternoon, a little shy of her recent scoring average, but only collected 3 rebounds vs. her recent average of almost 8.
Perhaps more telling, statistically, was in the number of assists recorded by redshirt junior point guard Ashley Polacek. With 12 points, the high energy playmaker fell just shy of her 15.3 average for the past three games according to stats provided beforehand by App State’s sports information department, but she was credited with only 2 assists compared to 7 averaged over the last three games and almost 6 for the season. That shortfall reflects Little Rock’s defensive execution in keeping the Mountaineers from getting good looks at the basket.
To their credit, the App State hoopsters at times got open shot opportunities, but the ball would drop short, carom off the rim or roll out of the basket.
Plummer is the Sun Belt Conference leader in rebounding, averaging 14.1 boards per conference game for the 2018-19 season and almost four per game more than Troy’s 2nd-ranked SkyLynn Holmes’ 10.9. But the Trojans’ interior players also did a good job of limiting Plummer to only 11 rebounds in this game. And while Plummer came into Saturday’s tilt averaging almost 2 blocks per Sun Belt game (ranked 4th, conference-wide), in this affair she recorded none.
That App State was taken “out of system” and forced to often throw up desperation shooting prayers is only half of the story. On the other end of the court, Little Rock was “on fire,” offensively. Inside of 15 feet, they rarely missed — which also helped explain Plummer’s shortfall in rebounding, because there were no defensive rebounds to collect. Four Trojans scored in double figures, led by senior forward Ronjanae DeGray’s 24 point performance, but followed by sophomore guard Terrion Moore’s 17 in coming off the bench Kyra Collier and Tori Lasker’s 13 and 10 points, respectively.
As a whole, Little Rock shot a remarkable 57.6% from the field, successful on 34-of-59 attempts. That compares to App State’s 41.2% performance (7-of-17) in the first quarter, 18.2% (2-of-11) in the 2nd period, and 33.3% (5-of-15) in the 3rd stanza. Thanks largely to the open looks provided by the aforementioned Hampton’s body blocks and the like to free up teammates, the Mountaineers shot 69.2% (9-of-13) in the final period, actually “winning” the 4th frame, 22-14.
Elderkin was candid in her remarks later to reporters, admitting that the team’s performance on this day fell far short of their goals and expectations. She found a measure of comfort in the fact that her Mountaineers had faced among the Sun Belt’s seven best teams in January and even with the home loss emerged with a winning record (4-3). With Georgia State’s loss to Texas-Arlington on Saturday, the Mountaineers stand alone in 4th place, far better than the 9th position where they were ranked in the Preseason Coaches’ Poll.
App State will complete the January slate of games on Tuesday when the travel to Lafayette, LA to take on Louisiana, currently in 8th place in the Sun Belt with a 3-4 conference record, 5-13 overall. The Ragin’ Cajuns were thumped by Troy (tied for 1st with Little Rock at 7-1 in conference play) on Saturday, 90-64.
- Ronjanea DeGray – 24 points, 8 rebounds
- Terrion Moore – 17 points, 3 rebounds
- Sydney Chastain – 9 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 points
- Kyra Collier – 13 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists
- Tori Lasker – 10 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists
- Madi Story – 20 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal
- Ashley Polacek – 12 points, 2 assists, 1 steal
- Bayley Plummer – 11 rebounds, 4 points, 3 assists
- Maya Calder – 7 rebounds, 1 steal