Jubilation had to wait a moment for a small group of people and a screen.
Madi Story just lived out a backyard dream — the Appalachian State senior guard grabbed a pass near the top of the key with 3.7 seconds remaining, drove in and pulled up for a short game-winning jumper against Georgia State on Thursday.
But as the ball trickled in and the buzzer sounded, the Mountaineers brief celebration was interrupted as the referees went to half court for a video review.
After what became an excruciating wait for Story and company, the referee huddle dispersed. The field goal was good, and the 47-45 win belonged to App State. No overtime necessary and happiness could resume.
“Honestly, I really wasn’t looking for a person — just like, my team,” Story said. “Honestly, I don’t know, I wasn’t even thinking after that. I was just like ‘Holy s---, we just won.’
“I don’t know if you can print that, but I was just so excited for everyone, and everyone swarmed me.”
With her shot, plus the scrappy plays just before, Story propelled Appalachian (18-13) into the Sun Belt Conference semifinals. Since joining the conference ahead of the 2014-15 season, the Mountaineers have never been this far in the tournament.
Story, who didn’t get to play against Georgia State in the regular season, became the dagger in the matchup between the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds, where App State served as underdog only by technicality.
“You know in the moment, I was so happy for her,” Coach Angel Elderkin said. “And then I just got back from the hotel and watched the replay, watching her teammates celebrate with her.
“I told the team this is an experience you guys are never going to forget. Like a lot of times in basketball, it’s these little moments. ... She’s shot that shot thousands on thousands of times in terms of how many times. She’s relentlessly worked at it. So to have it go down is a real special feeling and gives us a lot of momentum as we head into the next game.”
The inbounds play App State used to win had only appeared once before this season. In a game against UT Arlington, the play resulted in an easy layup for Lainey Gosnell thanks to a screen set by Story. But Georgia State took that option away, and Story had to improvise.
Only 14 seconds before, Appalachian became the victim of a 5-second violation while trying to get the ball in play. Story didn’t want that to happen again. After setting a screen for Gosnell near the elbow, Story crossed the court toward the block before shifting up to the top of the arc. She was thinking go in for a layup or a pull-up jumper. She opted for the latter.
“I was confident in that,” Story said.
But even before, Story had helped the Mountaineers soldier on in a game where both offenses struggle. In the closing minutes alone, she dove for loose balls and forced possession changes by jockeying in tie ups. She also shifted from the wing to the power forward spot as Gosnell and Bayley Plummer battled foul trouble.
Appalachian opened tournament play Wednesday by blasting Coastal Carolina in a 32-point win. The Mountaineers shot only 29.7 percent from the field against the Panthers, but they gritted it out on the defensive side.
In the teams’ regular-season matchup, Georgia State scored 44 points inside during a 85-75 win on Feb. 21. On Thursday, the Panthers had only 45 points while shooting 19 percent from 3-point range.
Now, App State has a chance to knock the No. 1 seed today. Little Rock is 19-10 and beat App State, 74-59, earlier this year.
Story is proud to have helped the program win their opening Sun Belt tournament games in each of the last three years. But her shot helped cement 2018-19 as the season App State proved it could contend. And that was worth the celebration that got briefly interrupted.
“I don’t know, I think it’s a big step in the program,” Story said. “... Just to see the huge growth we’ve had from last season to this season I think says the most.”
Added Elderkin: “We’ve been talking about the progression of the program, and our team’s been able to come into New Orleans and win a game. And I was ready for our program to take the next step, and today we did. And now, we can’t just be happy to be there now.”