Troy Women Will Play for Title After Upset of Arkansas State

NEW ORLEANS (troytrojans.com) – The offense came to life and the Troy women’s basketball team needed every bit of it in a 96-89 win over top-seeded Arkansas State in the Sun Belt Championships semifinals on Friday at Lakefront Arena.

Troy’s moves on to Saturday’s championship game where it will play either Little Rock or UL Lafayette with a spot in the NCAA Championships on the line.

In Friday’s semifinal, Troy (19-12) was hot out of the gates, hit a lull in the second quarter, but turned the scoring back on in the second half as every Trojan stepped up big in the clutch.  Caitlyn Ramirez led the way in scoring with 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting, including 3-of-3 from long range.  Amanda Mendoza added 22 points, including 6-of-11 from long range.

The complete team effort allowed Ashley Beverly Kelley to play facilitator, and the first team All-Sun Belt selection did so perfectly.  Beverly Kelley scored 17 points, but also set a Sun Belt Championships record with 14 assists while not committing a turnover.

“I thought this was a great women’s basketball game today,” Troy head coach Chanda Rigby said.  “When I got the opportunity to come to Troy, one of the things I wanted to do was carry on my style of being sold out to try and make women’s basketball more exciting.”

Exciting it was for all Trojans involved, and it was that way from the very start.  Troy hit 13-of-23 shots in the first quarter and took a 32-28 lead after the first 10 minutes.  Arkansas State (26-5), however, scored the final five points of that quarter, then the first six of second quarter and took a lead, 34-32.

The Trojans went on to score just eight points in the second quarter, but held Arkansas State scoreless over the last four minutes, and trailed by just four points, 44-40, at the break.

Then, just like in Wednesday’s quarterfinal win over South Alabama, Troy locked down defensively in the third quarter and held the Red Wolves to 6-of-21 shooting.  The Troy offense also came back to life as the Trojans hit five, third-quarter 3-pointers, including four from Mendoza.

Midway through the third, Mendoza and Ramirez hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cap a 17-4 run that put Troy up by 13 points, 63-50, facing Arkansas State with its biggest deficit of the season.

Two minutes later, Ramirez got back-to-back 3-point plays, both on assists from Beverly Kelley, to put Troy up 17, 68-52, with 3:15 to go in the third quarter.  The Red Wolves cut the lead to 13 on free throws to end the third.

Aundrea Gamble then took over and scored or assisted on 10 straight points for Arkansas State to open the fourth quarter.  Troy, however, had answers the down the stretch to counter Gamble’s 14 points in the final 10 minutes. The three-time Sun Belt Player of the Year pulled the Red Wolves within six, 85-79, with 4:16 to go, but Ramirez answered with a clutch corner 3-pointer on the next possession to put the Trojans back up by nine points.

Arkansas State cut the deficit to four with just 31 seconds to go, but Troy sealed things at the free throw line where the Trojans went 10-of-11 on the day.

For the ninth straight game Troy outrebounded its opponent, led by 11 boards from Kristen Emerson, who added four blocks and eight points on 4-of-4 shooting.  Claresa Banks led Troy’s bench with 10 points on 3-of-3 shooting, and helped the Trojans outscore the Red Wolves’ bench, 23-2.

Khadija Brown-Haywood had a double-double for the Red Wolves with 18 points and 11 rebounds.  Gamble added eight assists to her 26 points, and Brittney Gill scored 22 points, but at one point missed 12 straight shots after starting 6-of-7.

Troy, who played in its first semifinal in 11 years in the Sun Belt on Friday, will play in its second ever conference championship game on Saturday.  Troy last played in a title game in 1997 when it won the Mid-Continent Tournament (now Summit League) and made the only NCAA Tournament appearance in school history.

The Trojans split their regular season matchups against both UL Lafayette and Little Rock.

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