For the third straight year, App State (7-16, 2-10 Sun Belt) men’s basketball did not allow the first place Georgia State Panthers (16-8, 9-3 Sun Belt) to walk away with a victory in Boone. In a thrilling 77-72 victory, the Mountaineers hit 14 3-pointers to pick up only their second conference win of the season.
Having one of the largest crowds of the season at the Holmes Center, fans had the opportunity to see the Mountaineers football team honored at halftime for their championship season. The boost of energy not only rewarded fans with a win, but for the first time since Dec. 21, the Mountaineers scored at least 75 points at home to give all of the crowd a Bojangles mystery coupon after the game.
“Our crowd was sensational today,” head coach Jim Fox said. “It’s nice to play in front of a crowd that brings a lot of energy to the game, so thank you to the fans and the crowd. “
Both teams entered the game heading in different directions. The Panthers were on a hot eight-game winning streak and the Mountaineers entered on a seven-game losing streak, looking for any type of momentum.
Allowing only nine points in the final seven minutes of the game, sophomore guard Bennett Holley hit three 3-pointers in the final 10 minutes to put the Mountaineers back on top after trailing by eight in the first half.
With only 33 seconds remaining, freshman forward Isaac Johnson made two back-to-back blocks at the rim to ultimately hold off the Panthers and take home the win.
“Our guys never surrendered,” Fox said. “They are always competitive and are always fighting. They earned this the way they come out to practice and the way they fight everyday. This is all on them and they’re happy.”
Georgia State came out with their fast paced offense, attacking the paint to outscore App 38-18 throughout the game. But the Mountaineers stayed close with six first half 3-pointers from sophomore guard’s Ronshad Shabazz and Emarius Logan and freshman guard Patrick Good continuing to cut the lead.
“It’s [the 3-Pointer] my favorite shot,” Good said with a laugh. “They [coaches and teammates] always continue to push me to knock down shots and the team says get your head up and knock down the next one if I miss. They have confidence in me and I have confidence in them and it feels good to know I can help the team with my shooting ability.”
Using the three-ball and taking advantage of poor free throw shooting by the Panthers, App State only trailed 39-35 at the half despite Georgia State shooting 50 percent from the field.
After the Camellia Bowl and Sun Belt football champs were honored at the half, the Mountaineers looked like a new team in the second half.
“I think we just kind of executed a bit better and we made some big plays,” Fox said. “Patrick made that charge. Isaac’s block. We limited them to one shot in the final minutes. I was really proud at the way we guarded them. The way we started guarding them to the way we finished was kind of like night and day.”
The Panthers pulled ahead 56-48 with 11:58 to play before Holley entered the game and hit two three-pointers in the next two minutes to pull App within one.
Johnson made a quick steal after Holley’s second three for a fast break one-handed dunk and regained the lead for the Mountaineers.
“I was just open for my shots,” Holley said. “I give all the credits to my teammates for making the shots and passes and I just let them fly.”
Junior forward Griffin Kinney was held to zero field goals for just the second time this this season, leaving him to battle the boards and give App a 39-37 advantage in the game. Kinney pulled down eight and Shabazz and Johnson had seven and 11 respectively.
Not only did the Mountaineers win the boards, but the held Georgia State forward Willie Clayton to four rebounds.
“I have gone against Clayton for four years, and that suckers the best rebounder I have ever seen,” Fox said. “Our guys battled their butts off against him.”
Pulling ahead 72-67 with 2:33 remaining, Georgia State hit a 3-pointer to be back within two, and both teams would go the next two minutes scoreless as fans began to chant “Three more points!” in hopes to get Bojangle coupons.
“The crowd and experience made me so much more energetic,” John said. “I give a shout out to our crowd because they were our sixth man today.”
Right when it seemed the Panthers would tie things up, Johnson made a huge block at the rim forcing Georgia State to foul and send App to the line, bringing the lead to 74-70.
The Panthers drove back down the court and Johnson made yet, another block to all but end of the game.
“When he drove towards me the first time I tried to recover and I just tried to block it and I did,” Johnson said. “It gave me confidence because I knew he would drive by again and I just tried not to let that happen and I didn’t.”
The fans not only got their Bojangles, but also a win from the Mountaineers against one of the top teams in the Sun Belt.
“Our guys battle everyday. The biggest thing is inconsistency. We play 34 minutes and those other six minutes kill us,” Fox said. “I think we can play with anybody in this league. We now just have to be consistent with this effort and carry it over to tomorrow’s practice and get ready for Monday. Now we are off to winning weekends and we are off to a good start for this one.”
The Mountaineers will now prepare to face another top Sun Belt team with Georgia Southern heading to Boone on Monday at 7 p.m.
Story By: Jason Huber, Sports Editor
Photos By: Chris Deverell, Photographer