JONESBORO, AR (ASU) — Arkansas State senior NeNe Hurst-McLennan scored 15 points and sophomore Jane Morrill added 10, but Florida International countered with 23 points from sophomore Jerica Coley and a decisive advantage on the boards to take home a 52-45 victory over the Red Wolves Saturday afternoon in Sun Belt Conference women's basketball action at the ASU Convocation Center.
Florida International also got 13 points and 13 rebounds from junior Finda Mansare,helping the Golden Panthers to a 42-30 advantage on the boards.
Arkansas State jumped out to an early five-point advantage, but the game was tied five times and the lead changed hands four times before FIU went on a 10-0 in the final five minutes of the half to take a 25-17 lead. Hurst-McLennan stopped the run with a three-point play with 1:28 to play before the break, and the Red Wolves went to the locker room trailing 25-20. Hurst-McLennan led the Red Wolves at the half with 10 points.
FIU did not put the Red Wolves away until the final minute. Arkansas State closed to within a single point when Hurst-McLennan hit a pair from the free throw line with 4:43 remaining to make it 41-40, but Coley reeled off five straight points in the next 40 seconds to give the Panthers a 46-40 advantage.
Florida International led by eight until Morrill knocked down a three-pointer with a minute remaining to cut the gap to 45-40, and after a missed free throw by Coley, Arkansas State had a chance to slice further into the FIU lead, but the Red Wolves could not convert on the offensive end.
The Golden Panthers used a pair of free throws from Carmen Miloglav to make it a three-possession game at 52-45 with 32 seconds to play, and the Red Wolves could not get any closer.
"I thought a lot of mistakes and bad decisions on our part came back to haunt us," said ASU head coach Brian Boyer. "I thought at times we played pretty good defensively, but we failed to finish plays today. And giving up 18 offensive rebounds was just a killer for us."
"In the first half, our turnovers hurt us," added Boyer. "As a team, we have done a really good job of taking care of the ball and are leading the league in fewest turnovers. But we turned it over 11 times and a lot of those were just trying to force things that were not there. In the second half we did a better job of taking care of the basketball, we just could not put an extended stretch of defensive stops together."
Hurst-McLennan and fellow senior Meghan Lewis were honored prior to the game with ASU's annual Senior Day festivities, and the game was also the Red Wolves' Play 4Kay game. Arkansas State's players took the court in pink-trimmed uniforms, with the names of cancer survivors replacing the players' names on the jerseys. The ASU women's basketball program opened the day's activities with a Play 4Kay run/walk to help raise awareness and help fight women's cancers. Part of the proceeds from the day will go to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, named in honor of Hall of Fame North Carolina State basketball coach Kay Yow, who lost a two-decade battle with cancer in 2009.
The Red Wolves will now close out the regular season with a pair of road games, traveling to Western Kentucky Feb. 22 and UALR Feb. 25. Tipoff against the Hilltoppers of WKU is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in Bowling Green, Ky., while the ASU-UALR game will tip at 4:30 p.m. in Little Rock.