App State men’s basketball swept by South Alabama after three-week hiatus

App+State+senior+guard+Justin+Forrest+drives+towards+the+lane+during+the+Mountaineers%27+Senior+Day+56-54+loss+to+South+Alabama+on+Saturday.+Forrest+led+the+Mountaineers+with+20+points+in+the+game+to+go+along+with+six+rebounds.

Andy McLean

App State senior guard Justin Forrest drives towards the lane during the Mountaineers’ Senior Day 56-54 loss to South Alabama on Saturday. Forrest led the Mountaineers with 20 points in the game to go along with six rebounds.

Cameron Burnett and Dan Davidson

App State men’s basketball faced off against South Alabama in a two-game home series over the weekend that concluded with Senior Day. The Mountaineers entered the matchup coming off a near 20-day hiatus due to positive COVID-19 tests. 

“There’s people tracking this across the country, and people that take two weeks off have performed way worse than we have,” head coach Dustin Kerns said. “For us to come out after 14 days without touching a basketball — no-excuse mentality — but there’s a rhythm aspect to it, there’s a condition aspect to it. I thought overall considering back-to-back games (decided by) one possession, those can go either way, I thought (we handled it) pretty well.”

The Mountaineers dropped the first contest 65-63. Senior guard Justin Forrest led the losing effort with 20 points and sophomore forward Donovan Gregory aided, posting a 14-point, 13-rebound double-double. 

“Three weeks off was difficult without a game,” Kerns said. “I think tonight helped (shake the rust off) a little bit.”

App State led for all but 15 seconds in a very physical first half and took a one-point lead into the intermission. 

“We like intense games, and we’ve been in games like this all year,” Forrest said. “We’re definitely not afraid of these moments and it’s not about us shying away from anything.”

A Tyreke Locure three gave the Jaguars a 53-50 lead at the 7:45 mark in the second half. The lead was quickly stretched to nine by 5:48, behind several baskets from their 20-PPG senior guard Michael Flowers. 

App State ended the game on a 7-0 run, keeping the Jaguars from scoring over the final 3:25. With 21.3 seconds remaining, the Mountaineers had the ball with a chance to tie or win the game. They missed three 3-pointers and a heavily contested attempt at the basket before the buzzer sounded, handing App State its third straight loss. 

“On the under out of bounds play, we went for a two and they defended it,” Kerns said. “Justin got a good look at it and Almonacy got a good look at it, we just couldn’t get it down.”

The Mountaineers made just 17 of their 64 shot attempts, including six of 26 3-point attempts. Despite the poor shooting effort, App State was able to keep the game close thanks to a 10-rebound advantage on the offensive glass, scoring 18 second chance points. The Mountaineers also forced 17 turnovers, resulting in 16 points. 

“We missed a lot of good ones that we wish we could have back, but I don’t think that we did anything that cost us the game,” Forrest said. “We’ll definitely bounce back tomorrow and hit those shots that we missed today.”

App State’s leading scorer Adrian Delph was held to zero points on 0-5 shooting. The junior guard grabbed eight rebounds, but his four personal fouls forced bench time late in the game. 

“They’re in box-and-one and triangle-and-two, so it was hard for him to get in a rhythm and get going,” Kerns said. “He’s just got to settle down a little bit and let the game come to him.”

On Saturday, The Mountaineers lost another heartbreaker in a 56-54 defeat on Senior Day. The day started with a presentation for seniors Justin Forrest and Jamie Baker, as well as graduate transfer Michael Almonacy.

“Justin Forrest has had a historic career here, had a lot of big moments,” Kerns said. “Jamie Baker is a big guy that’s been a part of our locker room, big part of our culture and what we’re about. Michael Almonacy has been a guy that’s fit in really, really well and has given us a big lift in a lot of areas.”

Forrest led all scorers in the game with 20 points while adding six rebounds in the process. Delph was able to get on the board, putting in 7 points including a big 3-pointer in the second half to keep App State in the game.

The Mountaineers limited Flowers’ scoring ability in this game, forcing him to shoot 3-of-16 from the field while turning the ball over twice.

“(Flowers) was looking to be a bit more of a playmaker today, we forced him left but he’s a good player going left and right,” Kerns said. “That’s probably one of the worst statlines he’s had this year, but Goncalves stepped up and hit six big threes.”

App State had two scoring droughts in this game, both coming at the end of either halves. This included a field-goal drought at the end of the game, where the Mountaineers didn’t make a shot in the final four minutes. 

Junior forward James Lewis Jr. had a chance to tie the game with one second left after Almonacy missed a 3-pointer in the corner. There was a lot of contact at the rim, but the referees swallowed their whistles in the final seconds.

“I felt like there was a lot of contact, but we’ll take a look at the film,” Kerns said. “James is a big, strong guy so he gets fouled a lot, so we certainly felt like it was a chance to go to the free throw line and tie it up, but it didn’t happen.”

Lewis Jr. had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds in a strong effort. Gregory and Lewis Jr. were the only forwards to play double-digit minutes in the game, due in large part due to the triangle-and-two defense the Jaguars ran. This defense is based around having 3 players defend the middle of the court while having the other 2 focus on defending the main scorers on the wing.

“Today, they were exclusive triangle-and-two (defense) and we were ready for that today. We thought we could get them going out of box-and-one, but they didn’t,” Kerns said. “It certainly impacted our lineup a little bit there and playing certain guys.”

App State (12-9, 6-6 SBC) heads to Atlanta to take on the Georgia State Panthers (11-5, 5-4 SBC) on Tuesday. The game will tip off at 5 p.m. and will air on ESPN+.