It was difficult to watch, and even more of a struggle to write about, but here it goes. Some of the things we were worried about going into the Championship game against Samford came true in a 54-43 loss. Appalachian shot the basketball horridly for the entire game, only 29%, after shooting 51% the day before against Chattanooga. Secondly, it was not the starters who did not show up, it was the bench players, where Appalachian was outscored 19-9. Appalachian was flustered by good defense and put up bad shots, and did not take the ball to the basket strong, which led to only four free throw attempts to Samford’s 16 attempts. The turnover battle was even, but Samford did a much better job of capitalizing on mistakes, scoring 23 points to only 13 for Appalachian.
After all that, Appalachian still had a chance to win the game. After trailing by as many as ten points on three different occasions in the first half, the Mountaineers cut the Samford lead to seven at halftime. Appalachian battled back in the second half and led by one point on two different occasions, with just over eight minutes to play. However Samford’s hot shooting in the second half and their free throws helped them pull away to their second straight championship and NCAA berth
Appalachian will now wait until early next week to determine its fate for a potential WNIT at large berth. Those pairings will be released late Monday Night, March 12th.
Samford pulled the minor upset on Sunday afternoon with a win over Davidson, which sets up a rematch of the 2011 Southern Conference Championship Game. Appalachian defeated Samford twice this season, both times by four points, with games played in the fifties. Samford was a combined 10/48 from three point range in the two games. Maryah Sydnor led the Mountaineers against Samford this season averaging 15 points a game. “TC” Weldon and Anna Freeman combined for 14 minutes played against the Bulldogs in the win in Boone.
Samford has led by 20 points at halftime each tournament game, against Elon and Davidson. The Bulldogs have hit 18 of their 40 three points attempts in the tournament and have relied on sharp shooting sophomore Shelby Campbell who has scored 37 points in two tournament games. Campbell was averaging 7.5 points per game this season, and only 5.5 points per contest in conference play. She has hit six of her seven three point attempts. So, why the fascination with the three point shot? It is pretty simple. Samford runs a Princeton style offense, and Appalachian’s active defense makes it really difficult for Samford to get in a groove with backdoor cuts. The leaves Samford to rely on the three point shot as a big part of their offense.
In last year’s championship game, Appalachian played a great game for 39 minutes, but everything broke down in the final minute. A big part of Samford staying in the game was the three point shot. Samford hit eleven three pointers in the game, and only seven baskets inside the arc. Every Samford player can shoot the three. It is what they do. Appalachian must get their hands up on defense and limit the opportunities that Samford has beyond the arc. In the last two games, Appalachian had double digit leads, and allowed Western Carolina and Chattanooga to hit a string of three pointers in a row to close the gap. Appalachian can not afford those type of defensive meltdowns in the championship game.
Appalachian is a much different team than last year as well. Maryah Sydnor has been brilliant this year, and provides a long body that can handle the ball, shoot from the perimeter and move well on both ends of the court, something Appalachian did not have last year in the post. Appalachian also has a deeper bench this season, thanks to Sydnor and fellow freshman Katie Mallow, who is a taller guard who can hit the outside shot and has progressively improved on defense this season. Raven Gary adds another ball handler who is super quick in transition and can really defend the ball for 94 feet. I think they key to this game is the bench play and the play of the new players on both teams. Both Samford and Appalachian have seasoned players how have played in several tournament games and are very familiar with each other.