NEW ORLEANS, La. (ASTATEREDWOLVES.COM) – Fueled by a strong second half, the Arkansas State women's basketball team advanced to the semifinals of the Sun Belt Conference Women's Basketball Championship with a 78-69 victory over No. 8 Louisiana-Monroe 78-69 Wednesday afternoon at Lakefront Arena.
Jalen O'Bannon scored 13 of her season-high 21 points in the second half and the Red Wolves shot 52.2 percent from the field to pull away from the Warhawks. Aundrea Gamble added 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, while Carlisha Wyatt scored 11 and Jane Morrill finished with 10 points.
The Red Wolves (21-10) are in the semifinals for the first time since 2010-11 and will play No. 4 Texas State at Noon on Friday. The game can be seen on the Sun Belt Network at online at SunBeltSports.org.
"I'm proud of the team for battling through and advancing," A-State head coach Brian Boyer said. "UL Monroe did a lot of things positively against us that we struggled with but in the end this team has had the ability to buckle down all year long and we did today."
A-State led by five at halftime, but opened the second half on a 10-4 run to go up 48-35 at the first media timeout of the half. The Red Wolves found success by pushing the tempo and knocking down open shots as the team started 6-of-7 from the field to start the period.
O'Bannon was a dominant force in the second half as she found room in the paint to work and then was perfect from the free throw line. She scored seven points through the half's first seven minutes as Arkansas State worked its lead into double-digits.
Hanna Qedan's 3-pointer pushed the lead to 52-39 with 14:43 to go, but the Warhawks refused to go quietly. A quick 8-4 spurt closed the gap to 55-47 but A-State pushed the lead back to a 12-point advantage (59-47) with back-to-back baskets from Wyatt and Qedan.
A-State closed out the game by converting on its free throws, going 8-of-10 from the charity stripe in over the final four minutes. O'Bannon went 4-for-4 from the line during the stretch, while Morrill knocked down a pair. Gamble and Qedan each went 1-of-2 from the line to held A-State advance.
An 8-0 run gave the Red Wolves a 16-8 lead early in the period, but ULM answered and closed within 21-20 with over eight minutes remaining on the half. A-State pushed the lead to four points, but the Warhawks responded and took its first lead since early in the first half at 26-24 with 4:18 to go in the half.
A-State bounced back and closed the half on a 12-5 run to take a 36-31 lead at halftime. Gamble scored six points during the run to help the Red Wolves take the momentum into the halftime break.
Arkansas State shot 52 percent (26-of-50) from the field on the afternoon and was 22-of-33 (66.7 percent) from the free throw line. ULM also committed 16 turnovers during the game, but held a 47-31 edge on the boards.
Arkansas State will next play in the semifinal of the Sun Belt Conference Championship Tournament in New Orleans, La., at Lakefront Arena March 14.