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App State basketball sweeps doubleheader with South Alabama

App State women's basketball celebrates after their home win over Arkansas State by a final score of 70-69. Justin Perry | The Appalachian
App State women’s basketball celebrates after their home win over Arkansas State by a final score of 70-69. Justin Perry | The Appalachian

Strong second half propels women over Jaguars

App State (9-8, 4-4 Sun Belt) dominated the second half of their game against South Alabama (3-14, 0-9 Sun Belt) Thursday in Boone, winning 70-59 to snap a two-game losing skid.

The Mountaineers surged out to an early lead, and held the Jaguars scoreless for the game’s first three minutes. South Alabama notched their first bucket 4:23 into the game, but App State responded with another quick score to start the game on an 8-2 run.

A 3-pointer from South Alabama junior guard Rachel Cumbo and a bucket from redshirt junior guard Juliann Miller helped cut the App State lead to 8-7, however, and launched the Jaguars into a 12-0 run that gave them their first and what would be their largest lead of the night.

App State struggled to score during the Jaguars hot run, and were outscored 17-5 in the middle of the half.

Junior guard Peggy Smith notched App State’s first 3-pointer of the game and senior forward Maryah Sydnor completed a 3-point play in the paint to help the Mountaineers claw back and tie the game at 25 late in the half.

Near the end of the first half, the Mountaineers scored on the fast break twice and began to press and trap South Alabama defensively – a strategy that head coach Angel Elderkin said surprised the visiting Jaguars.

“We changed up the defenses and became more aggressive,” Elderkin said. “We turned the game into our favor. I thought it really changed the tempo of the game for us.”

Despite facing a deficit as large as seven points in the first half, App State went into halftime with a 35-29 lead – a lead they would not surrender for the rest of the evening.

In the second half, App State outshot South Alabama from the field 50 to 36.4 percent.

The Jaguars, who shot 4-7 from beyond the arc in the first half, but made just two of their eight 3-point attempts in the second half as their team shooting percentage fell off.

“I was saying to myself ‘there’s no way they’re going to sustain this 3-point shooting’ and sometimes as coach, you play those percentages,” Elderkin said. “When you put pressure on them, they’re taking more quick, forced shots.”

Taking advantage of the South Alabama shooting woes, the Mountaineers opened up a 22-point lead midway through the second half, which gave starters Mia Marshall, Katie Mallow and Sydnor some time on the bench as the team prepares for a road contest Saturday against Texas State.

“We have to get up in the morning and fly to San Marcos, which is not an easy trip, and then we have an early tip,” Elderkin said. “We have limited time to practice, so when we got a lead, our basic plan was if we can get a little separation, let’s get [the starters] out.”

Sydnor led the Mountaineers in scoring, totaling 19 points while sophomore guard Bria Carter had what Elderkin called “her best game of the season”, notching 13 points, five steals and three rebounds. Carter also shot 6-7 from the field.

“[Carter] really gave us the spark that we needed,” Elderkin said. “I think the more people come out and watch this team, they’re going to see different players but we’re always going to have our consistency.”

Carter’s 13 points set a career-high, beating out the nine she scored in the team’s last game against Troy.

“I think I had a lot more confidence in this game,” Carter said. “We all knew we had to come out and get this win.”

The Mountaineers’ matchup with Texas State is set to begin at 3 p.m. on Saturday.

Men down Jaguars, notch third-straight victory

App State (7-10, 4-4 Sun Belt) came into their conference matchup with South Alabama seeking revenge while riding a two-game win streak. In their last meeting in with the Jaguars in Mobile, Alabama, both teams shot the lights out offensively as very little defense could be found in a fast paced transition offense game that saw the Mountaineers fall, 104-95.

App State found their transition defense this time around as they held the Jaguars down in a 64-53 win Thursday night at home.

“I’m obviously very pleased with our effort tonight,”  head coach Jim Fox said. “Our defensive game plan was to play defense and guard someone tonight. I’m very proud of our guys for the way they did that. I thought it was a big step for us. It was night and day from the first time we played them.”

The Mountaineers came out attacking offensively in the first half. Junior guard Dustin Clarke sank two 3-pointers in the first half, the second of which came with 8:27 left to tie the game at 15.

With 4:20 left in the half junior guard Frank Eaves spotted up for a 3-pointer of his own. Eaves totaled 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the win.

“My teammates are doing a good job screening for me and getting me open and finding me when I am open,” Eaves said.

South Alabama junior guard John Brown tried to bring momentum into halftime as he scored with 26 seconds left to tie the game at 28.

However, fifth-year senior forward Tommy Spagnolo pushed ahead with four seconds left in the first half to slice home an inside lay-up off an assist by Eaves.

“We are always trying to play inside out so luckily we were converting and when we threw it out we were knocking down shots,” Spagnolo said.

In the second half, the Mountaineers pushed ahead of the Jaguars when freshman guard Jake Babic rang home a 3-pointer to give the Mountaineers what was then their biggest lead of the night – 43-36.

South Alabama quickly fired back as sophomore Georgi Boyanov’s quick hands paid off with a steal and subsequent foul as he jammed home a dunk. Boyanov completed the 3-point play to cut the lead to 43-40 with 10:24 left.

App State did not look back the rest of the way, getting the stops that they needed on defense and pushing the lead ahead to as much as 15 points off of Babic’s second shot from behind the arc to go up 58-43 with 6:28 left.

The Mountaineers came down with three huge offensive rebounds in the final four minutes to run the clock and cut off any attempt for the Jaguars to start a comeback.

“We made a big effort to go to the glass tonight,” Eaves said. “Coach told us he needed us to rebound tonight and that’s what we did. Everyone on the team did a job with the scouting report. We knew they were good shooters. Our defense was phenomenal today.”

The Jaguars led the Sun Belt in 3-point shooting coming into the game but were limited to 2-11 behind the arc – their lowest percentage of the season.

In the first half, the Mountaineers had just four offensive rebounds but finished the game with 13 while also out-rebounding the Jaguars 41-30 on the night.

“Appalachian State did a great job on their defense really clogging the lane and forced us to take tough contested shots,” South Alabama head coach Matthew Graves said. “We couldn’t come up with any defensive rebounds. We are a team that needs to score in transition and we didn’t do that tonight which is credit to coach Jim Fox. It was a totally different flow of the game than last time.”

Spagnolo finished with a double-double as he contributed 15 points and 10 rebounds in the win.

With their third win in a row the Mountaineers reach the .500 mark in conference play as they go on the road to play their next 6 of 8 games on the road.

The Mountaineers face Texas State on the road Saturday. Tipoff is slated for 5:30 p.m.


Story: Cory Spiers, Sports Editor

Bryant Barbery, Sports Reporter

Photo: Justin Perry, Web Manager

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