Game One against UL Monroe: Saturday, February 25 at 3:30 p.m.
Entering halftime in the lead in three of their past four games, starting out strongly has not been a problem for the Mountaineers. Once again, however, a poor second half defensive performance spoiled yet another solid first half, ultimately leading App State to a 75-64 defeat at the hands of UL Monroe.
App State (8-19, 3-13 Sun Belt) has now given up 57, 43 and 53 points respectively in the second halves of their three previous losses. Struggling to maintain second half leads, the Mountaineers are searching for answers.
“It’s just a question of confidence, and it’s the same thing over the last three games,” head coach Jim Fox said. “It is a question of mental toughness and we have got to get over that hump.”
Knocking down back-to-back three-pointers, sophomore forward Tyrell Johnson stretched the Mountaineer lead to 27-13 with 5:48 remaining in the first half, which was the Mountaineer high for the game. Calling a timeout, the Warhawks (8-20, 2-13 Sun Belt) regrouped and cut the App State halftime lead to eight.
Turning the ball over 13 times in the first half, the Warhawks were victims of eight App State steals. While the Mountaineers forced plenty of turnovers, they only cashed in on four points off of those turnovers.
Shooting just over 33% from the field for the half, App State missed out on opportunities to put them further ahead.
“In the first half, we had some wide open looks, whether they were at the rim or from the three-point line and we didn’t make them,” Fox said. “Our lead was only eight at half and I thought it should’ve been a lot more.”
Utilizing a shot fake, sophomore guard Emarius Logan drove from the three-point line to the elbow, nailing a jumper to stretch the Mountaineer lead back out to double-digits less than a minute into the second half. Shortly quieting the memories of their struggles in the second half, the Mountaineers would soon see their woes catch up to them.
After taking their first lead of the game at 43-42, Warhawk sophomore forward Travis Munnings stole a pass and slammed home a dunk, prompting Fox to burn a timeout. Following the timeout, App State tied up the game at 45-45 after sophomore guard Ronshad Shabazz’s three-pointer, but the Apps never retook the lead.
“They were making runs and their momentum was big because we weren’t scoring after they scored,” freshman forward Isaac Johnson said. “We tried to get stops and it just wouldn’t happen tonight.”
Scoring only two points in the first half, Munnings was held in check until exploding for 19 second half points, finishing just one point under his season high.
Munnings’s contributions were only part of the explosive second half for the Warhawks. Munnings, senior guard Nick Coppola and junior forward Sam McDaniel all scored over 12 points each in the second half.
“We lacked a lot of defensive intensity [in the second half], and we have got to learn to play the whole game instead of just the first half,” Shabazz said.
Through the struggles, App State garnered some hope from the offensive glass. Coming off a slow first half, Johnson shook off the jitters from his first collegiate start and grabbed eight second half rebounds.
Converting on two emphatic second half putback dunks, the freshman’s energy and efficiency will continue to gain him valuable playing time.
“In the first half, the coaches told me I wasn’t on the glass as much as I need to be,” Johnson said. “In the second half, I told myself that I needed to crash the glass even harder and try to get some points off the glass.”
Looking ahead, the Apps will close out the regular season at the Holmes Center against Louisiana on Monday and Coastal Carolina on Saturday.
Digging deep, the Mountaineers will try to gain some momentum into the conference tournament, where any team can punch their ticket to the big dance.
“We’re going to be in the conference tournament and we have a shot,” Shabazz said. “If we keep our confidence high and finish the season strong, then we can make a run.”
Story By: Tyler Hotz, Sports Reporter
Game Two against Louisiana: Monday, February 27 at 7 p.m.
App State men’s basketball hosted Louisiana at the Holmes Convocation Center Monday night falling 77-62 to the Ragin’ Cajuns for App’s fourth straight loss.
It began with a 9-0 start to the game for Louisiana (18-11, 8-8 Sun Belt), and from that point on, the tone was set for the majority of the contest.
“Obviously I am very disappointed we didn’t start well,” coach Jim Fox said. “We got back in it [later] and then we didn’t finish the game.”
After the rough start, the Mountaineers (8-20, 3-14 Sun Belt) fought their way back into the game led by guard Jake Babic coming off the bench and scoring seven straight points to give App the lead at 22-21 an the 10:20 mark in the first half.
“Whenever I go out there I just try to bring whatever momentum I can carry out and try to get the guys going,” Babic said. “I just try to stay within the flow of the system, I thought I had good looks and my teammates put me in great position to score.”
The lead only lasted 24 seconds for the Mountaineers, while the rest of the game was dominated by the athleticism and length of the Cajuns’ wing players.
The Cajuns’ guard Frank Bartley IV had 21 points with an impressive 3-for-5 from behind the 3-point line, while another guard, Jay Wright, attacked the basket and went a perfect 9-for-9 at the free-throw line, accounting for 15 points himself.
“Wright is quick,” Fox said. “We did a good job at the beginning keeping him in front, then they started turning the corner on us a little bit and were able to get to the rim.”
The balanced scoring attack of Louisiana’s starting unit compared to Appalachian’s was 71-39, which was in large part due to the early foul trouble of leading scorers Ronshad Shabazz and Griffin Kinney.
“They tried to be in gaps and force us to shoot three-pointers,” Shabazz said. “I feel like we should have kept attacking in order to get to the line to get it going.”
Shabazz led the team with 17 points despite gaining three quick personal fouls while Kinney only had eight points. Kinney never really could get into the flow of the game after getting his fourth foul early in the second half.
With Kinney only playing 24 minutes, App paid for it by losing the rebounding battle by 11. Fox wants to see more team rebounding, especially from his guards.
“The problem is the big guys can’t be the only ones rebounding,” Fox said. “Its got to be the guards sinking in.”
Babic, Shabazz and guards Emarius Logan and Patrick Good combined for only two rebounds in a combined 87 total minutes played Monday night.
Another category coach Fox brought to light for improvements was the constant fast breaks started by turnovers in which Appalachian had 17 of, leading to 25 points for Louisiana.
“Turnovers were the downfall tonight,” Fox said. “You can’t guard run outs.”
Shooting the ball from the perimeter and especially the three-point line hurt the Mountaineers as well losing the battle shooting 28 percent compared to the 42 percent by the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Moving forward, the young team only has one game left in the regular season on March 4 against Coastal Carolina before heading into the Sun Belt tournament starting March 8.
App State has only won three Sun Belt games, and all options at this point have to be looked into as consideration.
Fox is open to all options and is trying to find the right combinations to play with one another heading towards tournament time.
“Our guys are so young that nobody’s put a lock on a position,” Fox said. “We go through practice and see what works and hopefully find a combination that works better for us than it has been.”
Story By: Adam Hothersall, Sports Reporter