For the second time in school history, the Troy women’s basketball team will play for a Sun Belt Conference Championship.
After defeating top-seeded Arkansas State 96-89 in the conference championship semifinals, the Trojans will advance to their first Sun Belt Championship game since 1997. The win at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans was Troy’s seventh straight.
The Trojans (19-12, 12-8 Sun Belt) had four players score in double figures, including a 17-point, 14-assist double-double from senior guard Ashley Beverly-Kelley. With the 14 assists, the first team All-Sun Belt player recorded the most ever in the Sun Belt Championship Tournament.
Right out of the gate, Troy was on fire from the field, as Beverly-Kelley and sophomore guard Amanda Mendoza both scored eight points in the first half. Mendoza recorded one of her best outings of her career, hitting six threes on her way to a 22-point performance.
After going up 32-28 in the first quarter, the Trojans fell behind in the second behind a solid defensive scheme from the Red Wolves (26-5, 19-1 Sun Belt). They held Troy to just eight points in the second period.
Arkansas State’s lead was erased after halftime, as the Trojans outscored the heavily-favored Red Wolves 32-15 in the third. Sharp shooting from Mendoza and junior forward Caitlyn Ramirez helped push the Trojans ahead 63-50 with 4:04 left in the third.
That lead, which grew to an 18-point lead later in the quarter, was the largest deficit Arkansas State has faced this year.
Ramirez led Troy in scoring, posting 24 points and seven rebounds, including 3-of-3 from beyond the arc.
The Red Wolves bounced back in the fourth quarter behind a late surge from senior guard Aundrea Gamble. After putting up only nine points in the first half, Gamble exploded for 17 in the second, and three assists that cut Troy’s lead to just four with 31 seconds left to play.
Clutch free-throw shooting from the Trojans kept Arkansas State at bay, earning themselves a spot in the finals.
Troy will play for the Sun Belt Conference title on Saturday, March 12, against second-seeded UALR. Tipoff in New Orleans is scheduled for 7 p.m., with ESPN 3 providing coverage of the game.