The Appalachian State women's basketball team opened play in the Sun Belt Conference tournament with an emphatic start.
App State (17-13), the fifth seed, claimed a 78-42 win against Coastal Carolina in the second round. The Mountaineers shot 49.3 percent from the field while stifling the Chanticleers, which only had 17 points at halftime.
Appalachian will move on to face Georgia State, the No. 4 seed, at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday. But before shifting focus to that quarterfinal matchup, here are three takeaways from Angel Elderkin, App State's head coach, on the Wednesday win.
1. The fast start
App State jumped on Coastal Carolina right away. The Mountaineers had an 11-point lead after the first quarter, ballooning to 24 by halftime. The Mountaineers led in the game for 38-plus minutes.
"I mean our kids right from the warm ups today, it was like right when they got off the bus, they had a different energy and a different focus about them," Elderkin said. "They were locked in. I talked to them earlier in the morning about everything happens for a reason. And when we went down and played Coastal the second time (a 74-66 App State loss on Feb. 16), we had a heart to heart after that game about where we wanted to go, not being casual, and what we needed to do to win and be a top team in the league. And I think that lesson on the road was powerful, but that was all them. They were really, really locked in today."
2. Plummer's value
Bayley Plummer made the all-Sun Belt third team for a reason, and she showed it on Wednesday. The junior had five points and 19 rebounds, dominating the paint on defense and getting the App State offense into transition. It exemplified the role Plummer, an East Davidson grad, has grown into.
"We can't do what we need to do on the defensive side of the ball without here because of her ability to give teams one shot," Elderkin said. "She does a tremendous job. Offensively . . . people are like 'Oh, that's her role, she's not a scorer,' but what she does doesn't go into a stat sheet. We run a high-ball screen offense. She inbounds the ball, she initiates the offense, so on that first screen, when she sets a great screen, her man has to leave her, Ashley (Polacek) gets to turn the corner and great things happen for our team. It's a little bit of a selfless role that she has, but there is definite emphasis every night when we take the court to get the ball inside to her because I just think she is one of the best post exit passers in the game. She's bought into her role."
3. Steady conference performance
App State has won its Sun Belt tournament opener for the third consecutive season now. The Mountaineers went from a very young team with eight wins in 2017-18 to a young-but-experienced team that doubled its win total this season. The victories, and the No. 5 seed, shows Elderkin the evolution she's wanted to see in the Mountaineers.
"This is new territory for us, so I think today was a bigger step because last year, we were in the nine-eight (game)," Elderkin said. "We've come in as an underdog, and we've been able to win (The No. 9 seed Appalachian beat Arkansas State, 79-68, in the 2018 tournament). Now this year, and we were able to win, so this one today was kind of special from that perspective that we did what we needed to do on a Saturday to get here, and then we weren't comfortable with just getting here. Now it's time for our program to really take the next step."