Defense carries ASU women to win over FIU in Sun Belt opener

MIAMI, Fla. ( – Led by Jane Morrill's 12 second half points, the Arkansas State women's basketball team earned its first victory of the season with a 60-57 victory over Florida-International in its Sun Belt Conference opener on Thursday night.

Morrill was held scoreless in the first half, but bounced back in the second half to help the Red Wolves (1-5, 1-0 Sun Belt Conference) to the three-point victory. Freshman Jalen O'Bannon added a career-high 12 points, while senior Quinishia McDowell finished with 13.

"It was a good win, a good conference win and a good conference road win," ASU head coach Brian Boyer said. "It was just a possession by possession game the entire second half and it was just really good to see our players get stops when they had to get stops and score points when they had to score. It was just a really good win by this team."

The game featured 16 ties, 13 of which were in the second half, and eight lead changes. FIU (2-4, 0-2 SBC) held its largest lead at 47-43 with 8:30 left in the game, but the Red Wolves rallied to tie the score at 47-47 after a pair of free throws from McDowell and layup from O'Bannon.

After trading baskets over the next six minutes, A-State took the lead for good when O'Bannon hit 1-of-2 free throws to give the Red Wolves a 58-57 lead with 1:41 to go. Ashley Olvera added two free throws to 16 seconds left in the game to push the lead to 60-57. FIU's Jerica Coley's 3-point attempt at the buzzer fell short to give ASU the victory.

"We had a great first half, had a really good start and came out with a lot of energy," Boyer said. "They answered and came back and then the whole second half was just back and forth. Both teams had answers up until the very end and it was just a matter of whose defense was going to break in the last three minutes and fortunately it wasn't ours."

A-State's defense was relentless on the night and got key stops when it needed them most. O'Bannon finished with two steals on the night, including one with 3:06 to go in the game that led to a layup from McDowell to give the Red Wolves a 57-55 advantage. Olvera picked up her swipe of the game on the next possession to help the team finish with a season-high nine steals.

ASU led 25-22 at halftime after a superb performance from O'Bannon in the first half. The freshman was 5-for-5 from the free throw line in the first 20 minutes of action and scored seven points.

The Red Wolves led by as many as nine in the first half after going on an 8-2 run in which four different players scored for A-State. The Panthers rallied to tie the score at 22-22 after going on 8-0 run, but O'Bannon's converted on an and-1 attempt with 25 seconds left in the half to give ASU the three point advantage at halftime.

The Red Wolves relied on a perfect effort from the free throw line in the first half to help build their lead. The Red Wolves were 9-of-9 from the free throw line during the first period.

The ASU bench outscored FIU's bench 21-13 on the night and the Red Wolves also scored 17 points off 20 Panther turnovers. Morrill and Carlisha Wyatt paced A-State on the boards with five rebounds, and McDowell had a season-high four assists.

ASU will return to the court Saturday, Dec. 1 when its travel to Boca Raton, Fla., to take on Florida Atlantic. Tipoff is set for 11 a.m.