It looked as though the Mountaineers (2-1) could pull off a big upset in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off at Myrtle Beach, but the App State men’s basketball team was unable to capitalize on a tight first half with eight lead changes, losing 104-98 to the Iowa State Cyclones (1-2).
Behind a 32-point game from freshman guard Justin Forrest and junior Ronshad Shabazz, the Mountaineers and Cyclones combined for the most points in Puerto Rico tournament history, and Forrest’s 26 points in the second half is the most in tournament history.
“They’re (Iowa State) a good team,” Mountaineer head coach Jim Fox said. “I thought they kind of made everything today. We just didn’t get it done and our guys are very disappointed. We have to be better than we were today. We went through some spells there when we tried to play as people we were not. It carries over to the defensive end and we struggled for a couple of rounds and it led to bad offense and bad defense.”
Shooting 52 percent from the field in the game, Iowa State opened up the first half with a 7-1 lead. Looking like the Cyclones would run away with the game, leading Mountaineer scorer, Shabazz took matters into his own hands, scoring App’s first 10 points, bringing the game within three, 13-10 before the first media timeout.
“For the most part it was good setting the pace,” Iowa State junior guard Nick Weiler-Babb said. “For the most part we’ve been kind of walking it down, we’ve been a slow paced team the past two games, so we had to switch that.”
With the Cyclones continuing to shoot lights out from the field to open up the game, senior forward Griffin Kinney struggled to do any damage in the paint offensively, leading to him being subbed out for freshman guard Justin Forrest.
Also coming off the bench for the Mountaineers, sophomore guard O’Showen Williams hit a 3-pointer to bring the game within three, and Forrest backed him up with a three of his own, giving App their first lead of the game, 19-18
Led by Shabazz’s 21 first-half points, the Mountaineers and Cyclones continued to exchange leads with no team having more than a 5-point lead throughout the final 12 minutes of the first half. App State’s largest lead was only 1 point, but the Mountaineers had 10 first half assists to only three turnovers and made nine 3-pointers.
“We want to attack the rim and get fouled, but we can’t stop and put our head down. We had 20 assists and eight turnovers throughout the game. Those eight turnovers were some offensive fouls,” Fox said. “That’s what really hurt us and affected us offensively. They could put the ball on deck and attack the rim but now they were making threes at a high rate.”
Only down 47-43 at the end of the first half, the Mountaineers tied the game again to start the second half 49-49 with two layups from sophomore forward Isaac Johnson.
That was the closest App stayed with the Cyclones. Iowa State junior guard Nick Weiler-Babb and senior Donovan Jackson gave the Cyclones a 61-51 before the Cyclones went on a 10-0 run to take a 73-59 lead with 12 minutes remaining.
“The problem we had was suddenly when the ball stopped, and we tried to go one-on-one with no swings of the ball and that’s not who we are,” Fox said.
The Cyclones led by 18 with 8:25 remaining to play, and Forrest, only playing in his third collegiate game, broke out with three 3-pointers, totaling 26 second-half points and getting to the line for 15 free throw attempts.
“It’s just in our offense,” Forrest said. “The coaches trust us when we’re out there and call the play every possession. Just being with my teammates and having them trust me in getting me the ball and me just doing whatever our offense says we do.”
Down the stretch, Forrest helped bring the Mountaineers within 8 points, but Iowa State’s second half run was too much for the Mountaineers to overcome.
“I’m proud of our team competing and fighting to the end of the game,” Forrest said. “We’ll go watch film and fix what we need to fix and come back tomorrow ready to play.”
App State will now move on to the second round loser’s bracket and will play Western Michigan on Friday at 5 p.m. Iowa State will take on the winner in the semifinals of the tournament on Friday at 7 p.m. The top half of the bracket will have Boise State playing Illinois State in the semifinals.
Story By: Jason Huber, Sports Editor
Photos By: Jamie Patel, Video Editor