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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas State forward Peyton Martin is shown in this file photo. (Democrat-Gazette file photo)

JONESBORO -- February has been harsh to the Arkansas State University women's basketball team.

The Red Wolves began the month in contention in the Sun Belt Conference. By the end of it, they've dipped into the bottom half of the league with a sub-.500 record.

But ASU pulled itself together Friday night at First National Bank Arena, and it did so in dominating fashion over its in-state rival.

Junior forward Peyton Martin posted her second double-double of the season with 18 points and 12 rebounds, three other Red Wolves scored in double figures, and ASU used a big second-half effort to run away with a 72-54 victory over the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, splitting the season series with the Trojans.

The Red Wolves (10-17, 7-9 Sun Belt) ended a six-game losing skid, claiming just their second win in February, and clinched a spot in the conference tournament in the process.

"It's amazing how good normal feels," ASU Coach Matt Daniel said. "I haven't focused on the losing streak and tried to unload those things. Like, we're just trying to play better basketball.

"But yeah, it helps -- it helps in everything. I mean I'll probably sleep a little bit better, and [my wife] Jennifer will be glad about that and we'll go recruiting [Saturday]."

After giving up an average of 80.8 points per game during its six-game skid, ASU finally turned in a defensive performance it could feel good about. ASU's 18-point victory was its largest margin of victory over the Trojans (11-16, 9-7) since Jan. 25, 2014.

UALR has dropped five of its past six games, and Friday's defeat put a significant dent in the Trojans' hopes of securing a top-four seed in the Sun Belt Tournament. The Trojans fell out of a tie for fourth with Louisiana-Lafayette (16-10, 9-6) with two games to play. The Trojans still hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Ragin' Cajuns, who have to face first-place Coastal Carolina today on the road.

The top two finishers in the league standings automatically get into the tournament semifinals in New Orleans on March 14, but the third and fourth seeds get to host the first two rounds.

"That's not the most important thing for us right now," UALR Coach Joe Foley said. "Naturally you'd like to play at home, but if you're not gonna play any better than that, it doesn't matter. So we got to get better first before we worry about where we play."

Foley's had to navigate a trying season with a young roster. His usual rotation got even younger Friday night with freshman Skyla Knight starting at the point guard spot in place of junior Tori Lasker, who did not make the trip after suffering from flulike symptoms, according to a team spokesman.

Knight hit a pair of three-pointers in the first half, the first one putting UALR ahead 8-7 with 6:38 to play in the opening quarter. Freshman forward Angelique Francis then scored on a layup, and junior forward Teal Battle hit one of two free throws to give UALR an 11-7 cushion.

After that, the Trojans began a scoring drought of nearly eight minutes while ASU went on a 15-0 run to open up a 22-11 lead early in the second quarter. Kyra Collier ended the surge with a short jumper at the 6:19 mark, and she scored eight of UALR's 11 points in the quarter to help the Trojans pull within 26-22 at halftime.

A huge third-quarter onslaught helped the Red Wolves open up a 21-point advantage.

UALR used a 9-0 run late in the quarter to make it a 54-41 deficit heading into the fourth, but its comeback hopes were doused once sophomore guard Jireh Washington scored ASU's first nine points of the quarter to put the Red Wolves in front 63-45 with just over six minutes to play. Washington finished with 14 points and eight assists.

ASU outscored UALR 46-32 over the final 20 minutes.

"We looked poised, we looked mature, and we got an old roster that's not always mature," Daniel said. "We need more [scoring]. We got to play over our heads sometimes, and we did some plays tonight, and that's how you win games."

Collier finished with a team-high 16 points for UALR; Knight had 11 points and 4 assists; and Battle tallied 13 points. UALR junior forward Krystan Vornes, who had missed the past seven games, returned from a suspension for a violation of team rules, finishing with 2 points and 3 rebounds in 17 minutes.

Mya Love scored 15 points for the Red Wolves, and Morgan Wallace chipped in 12 points and 8 rebounds.

Sports on 02/29/2020

Print Headline: ASU ends difficult February with style

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