A-State (6-5, 1-0 SBC) trailed 35-22 after the first 20 minutes, but outscored the Jaguars 40-15 in the second half to earn the comeback victory. Aundrea Gamble scored a game-high 19 points, 17 of which came in the second half. Hanna Qedan added 12 points and Jamie Ruffins tied a career-high with 10.
“In the first half we were just not very good and they were just more aggressive on the boards and had more hustle than us,” A-State head coach Brian Boyer said. “The second half was great and we were able to get the turnover number separated and at one point they had only scored five points and that just shows you how good that defense was for us.”
A-State scored the first seven points of the second half to narrow the deficit to 35-29 before three minutes had ticked off the clock. The Red Wolves got within 36-31 with 14:43 to go and tied the game after a steal by Khadija Brown-Haywood who tossed it ahead to Ruffins for an easy basket with 11:15 left.
The Red Wolves took the lead for good on their next trip down the court on a 3-pointer by Gamble and pushed the lead to 50-40 with just under eight minutes to go. A-State outscored the Jaguars 28-5 over 12-plus minute span and held South Alabama (3-7, 0-1 SBC) to just 3-of-16 (18.6 percent) from the field in the half.
A-State was able to get back into the game through solid defense that it was able to transition into good looks on the offensive end. The Jaguars turned the ball over 26 times, 18 in the second half, which the Red Wolves were able to convert into 28 points. On the offensive side the Red Wolves turned the ball over just eight times in the final 20 minutes and went 11-of-22 (50 percent) from the field to go along with a 16-of-22 (72.7 percent) effort from the free throw line.
“At halftime it wasn’t a basketball issue as much as it was that we were just getting beat to a lot of loose balls and on the boards,” Boyer said. “In the second half we were able to extend our defense better and defend throughout the entire shot clock and that led to us hitting some shots to get back into the game.”
Gamble and Qedan spearheaded the A-State effort, particularly down the stretch with timely rebounds and clutch free throw shooting. Gamble was held scoreless for the first 16-plus minutes before she finally hit a shot at the 3:21 mark of the first half, but the Sun Belt Conference Preseason Player of the Year exploded in the second half with a solid effort on both ends of the floor. Qedan scored 10 of her 12 points in the second half and hit a pair of free throws with 31 seconds to go to help seal the victory.
Arkansas State struggled offensively in the first half and finished just 8-of-26 (30.8 percent) from the field, while the Jaguars shot a blistering 48.5 percent (16-of-33) and also knocked down a pair of 3-pointers.
Chyna Ellis did most of the damage for the Jaguars and finished with 14 first half points and also grabbed eight of the Jaguars’ 25 rebounds. Ellis found space underneath the basket and was 7-of-10 from the field to help the Jaguars build a double-digit lead.
A-State trailed 21-18 with 6:38 to go in the half, but South Alabama went on an 8-0 run to push its lead to 11 points with just over four minutes remaining. Qedan stopped the run with a running jumper in the paint and Gamble scored her first points of the half with 3:21 to go, but South Alabama scored the final six points of the half to take a 35-22 advantage into the break.
Ellis led South Alabama with 17 points and 13 rebounds, while Breanna Hall added 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting.
Tuesday’s victory was the third straight victory in SBC openers for the Red Wolves, all of which have come on the road. It also marked the 21st consecutive game that Gamble has scored in double figures against a SBC opponent.
Arkansas State returns home for its Sun Belt Conference opener Jan. 3 against Appalachian State. The game is set for a 3:05 p.m. tip and can be heard live on 95.3FM The Ticket/970AM KNEA or online at AStateRedWolves.com.