5 takeaways through 9 games of Mountaineer basketball

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Ashton Woodruff

Senior forward Donovan Gregory pulls up for a mid-range jumper against Furman Nov. 29, 2022.

Ethan Smith, Associate Sports Editor

1. Justin Abson is a defensive force

Freshman forward Justin Abson has made an immediate impact on this Mountaineers team. Through nine games, Abson is averaging 2.8 blocks per game, ranking 13th nationally. He provides an interior presence for App State that challenges and alters shots in the paint, making it much more difficult for opponents to score while he’s on the court. Abson moves his feet well in pick and roll situations and is able to recover to the basket if he gets beaten.

“He’s got such a natural shot blocking, timing, length,” head coach Dustin Kerns said following App State’s 79-75 overtime win over NC Central.

Abson is averaging 4.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game while shooting 59% from the field in just under 22 minutes per game. In the Mountaineers last contest against Charlotte, Abson started his first career game.

2. Any player, any given night

One of the Mountaineers’ biggest strengths is they have a number of different players who can lead them in scoring on any given night. 

Through the first nine games, they’ve had five different leading scorers. Senior forward Donovan Gregory leads the team averaging 13.1 points per game. Sophomore forward Chris Mantis led the team in scoring twice, with 22 and 25 against Warren Wilson and Charlotte respectively. Sophomore guard Terence Harcum, and graduate students Dibaji Walker and Tyree Boykin all had a game as the team’s leading scorer.

3. Half-court offensive struggles 

Despite having multiple players who can lead the team in scoring, the Black and Gold have often found themselves struggling to score in half-court offensive possessions. In the Mountaineers 71-62 loss against Charlotte, the team managed to only score 20 points in the second half after leading 42-31 at halftime. Against Campbell, they were held without a field goal from 7:06 mark in the second half until there was 37 seconds left in the game.

In several games this season, they’ve gone through multiple minutes without scoring a field goal. At times the offense looks stagnant and there is not a lot of ball movement or player movement, and it often creates situations where it’s making it easier for opponents to defend and harder for App State to score. 

4. Late game execution 

In six of the nine games App State has played in have been decided by five or fewer points including an overtime victory over NC Central. In many of those games, the Mountaineers held a lead going into the final stretch before their opponent found a way back into the game. App State struggles shooting the basketball and with turning the ball over. 

During the Mountaineers’ 71-67 loss to Kennesaw State, they held a seven point lead with just over three minutes remaining in the game. App State committed 17 turnovers on the night and allowed a 12-0 run from the Owls to close out the game.

“Winning is hard, so 17 turnovers, with some of them crucial, is not gonna get it done,” Kerns said.

5. It’s a long season

App State returned six players from last year’s team along with bringing in six newcomers. Gregory and junior forward CJ Huntley were the only returnees that saw significant playing time last season. It often takes time for new players to get chemistry with one another before they start playing more consistently. 

As the season progresses, the newcomers and returnees will start to get more comfortable and will look closer to a complete team.

The Black and Gold stand at 5-4 on the season and return to action Tuesday to play Carlow College. The game can be watched on ESPN+.