Louisiana-Lafayette did just about everything it needed to beat Arkansas State in the Sun Belt Conference tournament women’s semifinals — right up to Jaylyn Gordon’s wide-open, last-second 3-point attempt.
Unfortunately for the Ragin’ Cajuns, her shot bounced off the rim, and the Red Wolves won an intense matchup 63-61 on Friday at Lakefront Arena. No. 2 seed Arkansas State (23-9) advanced to Saturday’s championship against No.1 seed Arkansas-Little Rock and No. 6 seed UL-Lafayette (19-12) was left pondering what might have been.
With leading scorer Keke Veal having fouled out seconds earlier on a close call, the Cajuns wanted to go for the win on their final possession. After Arkansas State’s Hanna Qedan missed the second of two free throws with 9 seconds left, they raced upcourt, drove toward the baseline and passed back out to Gordon on the right wing.
“I ran off the court as soon as it left (Gordon’s) hand,” Cajuns coach Garry Brodhead said. “I knew it was going in.”
Veal, who scored a game-high 18 points, and teammate Kia Wilridge, who added 14, fought back tears a few minutes later when asked whether they deserved to win.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Wilridge said.
“We slipped up,” Veal said. “I felt like we should have won.”
The Cajuns forced 15 turnovers while committing only five and shut down two-time conference Player of the Year Aundrea Gamble, limiting her to eight points and one basket on five attempts thanks to Wilridge’s and Gordon’s tenacious defense. On consecutive possessions in the first half, Wilridge blocked a Gamble shot straight down into the floor and took a charge from her.
They bothered Gamble so much that Arkansas State coach Brian Boyer admitted he used her as a decoy after calling a timeout late in the shot clock while protecting a 62-61 lead with 12 seconds left. The inbound pass went in the corner to Qedan, who drove toward the basket and collided with Veal.
“I saw her coming,” Veal said. “I thought I placed myself in the right position to take it, but it just didn’t fall in my favor.”
Forwards Khadija Brown-Haywood and Jasmine Hunt led Arkansas State with 15 points apiece.
UL-Lafayette went ahead by 2 on three straight possessions in the final five minutes, but Arkansas State tied it each time. The Red Wolves pulled in front for good at 61-60 on a putback of a missed 3 — they outrebounded the Cajuns 33-19 — then pushed the lead to 62-58 before Gordon made a long 3-pointer with 40 seconds left.
The first half ended with the teams tied at 30, with neither leading by more than four or scoring more than four points in a row as the lead changed hands repeatedly.
Both squads responded the other’s haymaker in the second half. The Cajuns went on a 9-0 run to go ahead 39-30. The Red Wolves hit back with 14 consecutive points.
Back and forth it went until the final buzzer.
“I’m not frustrated at all,” Brodhead said. “We played really well.”
ARKANSAS-LITTLE ROCK 87, TEXAS STATE 44: Alexius Dawn scored a career-high 23 points as the Trojans cruised to the championship game with their most lopsided victory of the year.
Arkansas Little-Rock took a quick 17-2 lead and never let up, leading 44-23 at halftime and continuing to pad the advantage after the break, shooting 54.1 percent for the game.
Dawn hit 6 of 8 3-point attempts, giving her 17 treys in her past three games. Taylor Gault contributed 18 points, five rebounds and four assists; Shanity James added 17 points and 11 rebounds.
No one scored more than eight for fourth-seeded Texas State (17-14), which shot 30.4 percent.