App State men’s basketball sweeps Georgia State, takes over first place in Sun Belt


Hiatt Ellis

App State players Donovan Gregory (#11, left) and Deshon Parker (right) swarm Georgia State guard Kane Williams during the Mountaineers 74-61 win on Saturday at the Holmes Center.

Connor Davidson and Cameron Burnett

On Friday and Saturday, App State men’s basketball won back-to-back home games against Georgia State to move to 12-5 and 6-2 in conference, taking sole possession of first place in the Sun Belt overall and the East division. 

“Great weekend sweep. (I’m) really, really proud of our team. I thought we were tough today, I thought we were the tougher team, I thought our defense was just outstanding,” head coach Dustin Kerns said.

The wins mark the first time App State has swept the Panthers in a season since joining the Sun Belt in 2014. The Mountaineers’ 12-5 record is also the best start to a season since 2006-07. 

In the first game, senior guard Justin Forrest led the Mountaineers with 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting en route to an 80-71 win. He brought in four steals, creating an impact on defense. 

“Our defense led to our offense and we were able to convert easy buckets at the rim and extend that lead when we really needed it,” Forrest said.

App State shot 43.5% from three in the game, higher than the team’s season average of 34%. This included shots made by true freshmen Michael Eads and Sasha Glushkov.

“I thought we had some good balance. Sasha made a three, Eads made a three, that takes some pressure off some other guys,” Kerns said.

Georgia State’s leading scorer in the game was redshirt junior forward Eliel Nsoseme with 16. Nsoseme is the Sun Belt leader in field-goal percentage. The Panthers shot 4-of-14 from three and were forced to go inside to score.

“We were really trying to put the ball in their big’s (hands) and I’m willing to live with that,” Kerns said. “If we put less focus on those guards, they’re going to do even more damage, so it’s kind of a double-edged sword, but we wanted their bigs to shoot more than their guards.”

In the first half, Georgia State out-rebounded the Mountaineers 19-8, but the Mountaineers made adjustments at halftime and won the battle in the second half, with 18 rebounds to the Panthers’ 12.

“(Kerns) told us that we just have to gang rebound. We couldn’t just leave it up to our bigs. Some of our guards had to come down there and stick their nose in and help rebound,” Forrest said.

Georgia State had one back-to-back up to this point in the season, coming against Coastal Carolina, where the Panthers lost the first game but came back and won the second.

“I will definitely make a point to our team that this team has done that and we’ve got to come out with the same edge and intensity we did today,” Kerns said.

In the second game, the Mountaineers continued their success with a 74-61 win. In this matchup, redshirt junior forward James Lewis Jr. led the way with a career-high 22 points and 14 rebounds.

App State junior forward James Lewis Jr. (#25) flexes his muscles and celebrates with teammates late in App State’s win over the Panthers on Saturday. Lewis led the Mountaineers with a career-high 22 points and 14 rebounds in the game. (Hiatt Ellis)

“We just got a bunch of guys that can get going like that, so we’re pretty much used to that,” graduate transfer point guard Michael Almonacy said. “We just keep moving the ball and tonight it just found James.”

Lewis Jr. wasn’t the only Mountaineer to score in double figures in the game. Sophomore wing Donovan Gregory had 14 points while Forrest and Almonacy scored 13 points each. This marks the third straight game App State has had four players score in double figures.

Although there was a lot of scoring success, it wasn’t always easy for the Mountaineers to find the basket. There were a few scoring droughts throughout the game, including one that lasted nearly five and a half minutes early in the second half.

“I knew there was going to be a little bit of a scoring run, but we held them to a pretty big scoring drought at the end,” Kerns said. “We just kept preaching next play, next play, be confident and attack.”

Even with the scoring droughts, App State never trailed in the second half. This was largely due to the defensive effort by the Mountaineers, who are buying into the defensive mentality Kerns envisioned. He believes the key to playing good defense is creating good habits and being connected as a team.

“I think that’s what we’re really getting to defensively and it’s really a connected group,” Kerns said.

In the first matchup, App State committed 15 turnovers, which resulted in 25 points for the Panthers. In the second game, Georgia State only scored six points off 10 turnovers committed by the Mountaineers. 

App State (12-5, 6-2 SBC) looks ahead to its next two-game series at Troy (6-9, 1-5 SBC). The first of the two games will be played Friday at 7 p.m. and the second will be played Saturday at 5 p.m. Both games can be watched on ESPN+.