App State concludes season with 80-74 loss in College Basketball Classic


Hiatt Ellis

Junior forward Donovan Gregory initiates the Mountaineer offense against USC Upstate March 15, 2022.

Dan Davidson, Former Sports Editor

App State men’s basketball fell to University of South Carolina Upstate 80-74 in the first round of the College Basketball Classic Tuesday in the Holmes Convocation Center, concluding its season. 

“I think that this group has made losses hurt, and that hasn’t been the case around here,” head coach Dustin Kerns said. “I think this group changed the narrative. It’s not ‘Oh, App State won,’ it’s ‘Oh, they lost.’”

The Mountaineers entered the postseason tournament after suffering a 71-66 defeat in the Sun Belt Tournament semifinals against Georgia State. 

Both teams traded blows through the first 10 minutes, knotting the score up at 16 apiece until the 9:13 mark. USC Upstate’s Dalvin White drilled consecutive left-corner threes to find the game’s first separation. The Spartans stretched that six-point lead out to nine over the remainder of the half to enter the break with a 39-30 lead. 

USC Upstate knocked down six of its 13 three-point attempts in the first half, good for 46.2%. Overall, the Spartans shot 44.4% on field goal attempts, while App State shot 44% on its field goal attempts.

Senior guard Adrian Delph kept the Black and Gold within striking distance in the first half, scoring 14 of his team’s 30 points. 

The Spartans distanced themselves from the Mountaineers by forcing 12 turnovers in the first half, scoring 17 points off those turnovers. They also dominated the paint, outsourcing App State by 10 down low. 

“I don’t think we’ve had a game this season where we’ve had 12 turnovers at the half,” Kerns said. “With Justin and Mike handling the ball, we really had to have Donovan start handling the ball there. They were just getting sped up and turning the ball over.”

USC Upstate maintained its sizable lead until Kerns elected to switch to a zone defense, which quickly forced two turnovers and led to a 5-0 App State run. Delph capped off the run with another three to bring the Mountaineers within five at the 11:47 mark. 

“We haven’t played zone in a long time, but we could not guard them,” Kerns said. “We haven’t been carved up like that in a while, and hats off to Upstate.”

With App State down by three, sophomore forward CJ Huntley drilled a right wing three to tie the game and electrify the crowd. 

Sophomore forward CJ Huntley knocks down a game-tying three to electrify the crowd in App State’s 80-74 loss March 15, 2022. (Hiatt Ellis)

“It wasn’t, like, super quiet today, but that definitely got the crowd into it … and that just flicked the switch,” said Bailey Lang, president of the Student Yosef Club. “Even though it wasn’t the turnout we wanted at the end of the game, it was still a great game, and that was the turning moment that got us back into that game.”

Both teams traded leads throughout the final nine minutes, neither able to gain any separation. After USC Upstate gained possession on a jump ball at 1:19, junior forward Donovan Gregory fouled a three-point shooter, who knocked down all three free throws to give the Spartans a 77-74 lead. 

Delph missed a difficult three on the following possession, and White drilled a dagger three for USC Upstate, putting the game away 80-74.

Aside from turnovers and paint points, free throws were another separator for the Spartans. They converted 10 of their 11 attempts from the charity stripe, while the Mountaineers only knocked down 17 of their 26 attempts, good for 65.4%. 

App State ended up shooting slightly better from the field than USC Upstate, finishing at 46% and 45.5%, respectively. However, the Spartans found an edge from beyond the arc, shooting 45.5% to the Black and Gold’s 39.3%. 

The six-point loss concludes another winning season for the Mountaineers, finishing 19-15 overall. Senior guard Justin Forrest and graduate student guard Michael Almonacy finish their collegiate careers with the defeat, while seniors James Lewis Jr. and Delph have the option to return for an additional year due to a COVID-19 year granted to all student-athletes who played in 2020. 

“They’re going to go on and be great representatives of this university, be great husbands, fathers, people in the community,” Kerns said. “They’re great young men, and they’ll always be remembered here, so I want to congratulate them on a great career.”