By David Coulson. March 8, 2018. NEW ORLEANS, LA — Appalachian State was thrown straight into the crucible Thursday afternoon against top-seeded Arkansas-Little Rock and the result was a season-ending 66-34 loss at Lakefront Arena in the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt women’s basketball tournament.
UALR, one of the top defensive teams in the NCAA, showed why it roared through the Sun Belt Conference with a 17-1 record and two previous triumphs over Appalachian, smothering the Mountaineers (8-23) with pressure from start to finish in the 32-point victory.
Guard Monique Townson led the balanced Trojan attack with 14 points, seven rebounds and four steals as Little Rock led from wire-to-wire — and advanced to the conference semifinals for the 11th consecutive year.
No one felt the brunt of UALR’s defensive prowess more than App State’s 6-foot-4, all-conference sophomore center Bayley Plummer. Coming off her dominating 18-point, 19-rebound performance in the Mountaineers’ 79-68 opening-round victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday, Plummer was limited to two points, four shots and six rebounds by the Trojans.
Plummer didn’t score a point until the fourth quarter and App State coach Angel Elderkin received a technical foul in the third quarter, protesting the contact the UALR was allowed to use on her star player. A personal foul put Plummer on the free-throw line on the next possession for the Mountaineers, but on this frustrating day, Plummer missed both attempts.
“I thought the key for them was taking away Bayley Plummer and they did a really nice job on that,” Elderkin said. “We weren’t able to get the ball inside and execute our game plan. Again, a lot of credit to them and what they do defensively.”
With the dynamic Plummer eliminated from the offense, the rest of the Appalachian roster couldn’t keep up with the poised Trojans. UALR forced 20 turnovers, the third time this season the Mountaineers registered at least that many miscues against the stifling Trojan pressure.
“We just kept telling her that she had to continue to work for the ball,” Elderkin said. “Whether she was in the low block or whether she came out to try to reverse the ball for us, they were just denying. They stayed connected to her, and I like to say that they had a foot fight going, and they were winning the foot fight.”
About the only App State player to make much of an impact was freshman guard Lainey Gosnell in coming off the bench. Gosnell effectively penetrated the lane and finished with nine points and five rebounds.
Freshman point guard LaPresa Stanley, who was brilliant with 27 points, six rebounds and two assists in the tourney opener on Tuesday, was also bottled up by UALR and limited to nine points on 3-of-10 shooting and didn’t have an assist.
“We have other players on the court that can score,” Elderkin said. “I thought Nic (Mathews) came out aggressive, but then she got the fouls, so then we were sitting her. So then you get to the point as a coach where you know you only have 20-30 minutes left in your season, so you play them. Tierra (Wilson) is a good scorer as well, but they do such a great job of pressuring the ball and not giving anything off the ball screens. I thought their defense really limited what we wanted to do.”
Mathews scored eight points, but was 4-of-11 shooting with four turnovers and missed all three of her three-point attempts. Wilson, who had scored 16 points two days earlier, was 1-of-6 with four turnovers and hit just one of her four efforts from behind the arc.
The Mountaineers were limited to 27% shooting from the floor and were just 2-of-15 (13%) from beyond the three-point arc. Meanwhile, UALR hit at an efficient 45% rate and was 6-of-11 (55%) from three-point range.
Appalachian’s zone defense kept the game within striking distance in the first half as Little Rock built their 12-7 lead in the first quarter and expanded it to 28-11 by halftime. But the Trojans came out of the break firing on all cylinders and their 30-13 scoring barrage ended all suspense.
“We obviously are well aware of how good their defense is, but I thought their offense in the third quarter couldn’t miss a shot,” Elderkin said. “You couple a sixth-ranked defense in the country with a great shooting performance, and it was really tough for us to come back.”