App State men’s basketball continues growth in Kerns’ third season

The+Mountaineers+huddle+up+during+their+season-ending+defeat+to+USC+Upstate+March+15%2C+2022.+

Travis Holshouser

The Mountaineers huddle up during their season-ending defeat to USC Upstate March 15, 2022.

Ethan Smith, Reporter

Coming off a Sun Belt Championship and the first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2000, expectations were high for the Mountaineers men’s basketball team. App State brought back all five starters from the previous season, including Sun Belt Tournament MVP Michael Almonacy and leading scorer Justin Forrest. 

App State played a strong non-conference schedule, featuring four teams who earned NCAA Tournament bids, including consecutive away contests at Duke and North Carolina.

Head coach Dustin Kerns discussed the matchup against Mike Krzyzewski in the hall of fame coach’s final season.

Head coach Dustin Kerns leads the Black and Gold from the sideline in their matchup with Georgia State Feb. 12, 2022. (Hiatt Ellis)

“It’s incredibly humbling to be on the sidelines with the winningest coach in college basketball history and the storied prestigious program he’s built,” Kerns said.

 A standout performance in non-conference play came from senior guard Adrian Delph during the Gulf Coast Showcase. Delph scored a career-high 39 points in a loss against Delaware Nov. 22. The Mountaineers finished the non-conference season 7-9 before beginning Sun Belt play. 

App State finished 12-5 in conference play, marking the first 12-win season in conference games since joining the Sun Belt in 2014. The highlight of conference play was a six-game win streak in mid-January over Coastal Carolina twice, Georgia State, Georgia Southern, Arkansas State and Little Rock to take the top spot in the Sun Belt standings. 

During the Arkansas State game, senior guard Forrest became the third player in program history to reach the 2,000 point mark. The Black and Gold finished second in the Sun Belt standings, the highest finish in school history. After defeating Georgia Southern in the quarterfinals, App State lost a heartbreaker to eventual Sun Belt champion Georgia State 71-66 in the semifinals. 

Delph earned first team All-Sun Belt honors after averaging 17.7 points per game on the season. Justin Forrest was named to the second team All-Sun Belt Tournament team, while Delph earned third team honors. 

The App State student section cheers on the Mountaineers in their 65-61 victory over rival Georgia Southern Feb. 10, 2022. (Hiatt Ellis)

The Mountaineer fans helped the Holmes Convocation Center set a new attendance record in 2021-22. This season had a cumulative attendance of 42,620, surpassing the old record of 40,418 set in the 2002-03 season.

App State had the opportunity to participate in The Basketball Classic, a postseason tournament for schools not selected for the NCAA Tournament or National Invitation Tournament. The Mountaineers hosted USC Upstate in the first round, where they dropped a close contest 80-74. Despite the defeat, App State played in consecutive postseasons for the first time in program history. The Mountaineers finished 19-15 on the season and cemented back-to-back winning seasons.

In Kerns’ press conference after the defeat to USC Upstate, he praised his seniors who helped turn the basketball program and culture around.

“I want to congratulate our seniors on tremendous careers,” Kerns said. “They’re great young men, and they will always be remembered here.”

Senior guards Michael Almonacy and Forrest will graduate and move on from the team. Senior forward James Lewis Jr. will have the option to return for another season due to the COVID-19 year granted by the NCAA. Delph announced Monday he would be declaring for the NBA draft while maintaining his college eligibility.