Fans allowed back in Holmes Center for March Madness bracket unveiling

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Andy McLean

App State fans watched from the Holmes Convocation Center as the Mountaineers’ seeding and matchup for the NCAA Tournament were released during the annual selection show. “Oh my gosh, it’s so exciting to be back in the stadium,” said Denise Lovin, an App State fan and Boone local.

Silas Albright, Sports Editor

App State fans of all ages came out to the Holmes Convocation Center on Sunday evening for a March Madness selection show watch party to find out the Mountaineers’ seeding and what team they’ll play in their first NCAA Tournament game since 2000. 

“It’s crazy,” App State superfan and 2018 graduate Will Strickland said. “This is always the thing you talk about wanting, but realistically, it’s like, I don’t know if we can do it. And then we did. It’s possible.”

It’s crazy, this is always the thing you talk about wanting, but realistically, it’s like I don’t know if we can do it. And then we did.”

— App State 2018 grad Will Strickland

The selection show opened by naming 26-0 Gonzaga the No. 1 overall seed out of the West side of the bracket, and App State was the second school announced. The Mountaineers take on Norfolk State in the First Four Thursday at historic Assembly Hall on the University of Indiana’s campus in Bloomington. The winner advances to face undefeated Gonzaga in the round of 64 on Saturday.

“If we play like we did in the (Sun Belt) tournament, I feel good about the first game, and you never know about the second game,” 2020 graduate and fellow superfan Andrew Curry said. 

Denise Lovin, an App State fan and Boone local who came to the watch party, said she was disappointed with the potential matchup against Gonzaga, but not because of the unlucky draw with the No. 1 overall seed. 

“We were disappointed it wasn’t Michigan, we wanted a Michigan redo,” she said. 

The Wolverines are also a No. 1 seed out of the East region, but they play the winner of the First Four matchup between Mount St. Mary’s and Texas Southern. 

Before the selection show started, App State second-year head coach Dustin Kerns addressed the fans in attendance via the video board. 

“I’ve only got one request for you,” Kerns said. “Next season, if you come back and pack the Holmes Center every single game, we can win a lot more games and be right back here all together.”

From going 11-21 and 6-12 in Sun Belt play just two seasons ago to Sun Belt champs with an NCAA Tournament game up next, the Mountaineers have reached heights that few expected in such a short amount of time.

As the App State basketball team received its first March Madness bid in 21 years, fans took in the moment. Masks were required for entry and groups of 3 or less sat socially-distanced from each other. (Andy McLean)

Parker Stone, another superfan and 2020 App State grad, talked about how not too long ago, the Mountaineers were in the midst of the Jim Fox era. Over five seasons as App State’s head basketball coach, Fox compiled a 56-99 overall record and a 35-59 mark in Sun Belt play. His best season was 2017-18, when the Mountaineers finished at 15-18 overall. Before Kerns led App State to a winning record last year, the team had finished below .500 for eight straight seasons.

Stone said that when he and his friends were faithfully cheering on the Mountaineers during that eight-year losing-season streak, the thought of App State basketball going to the tournament was so unbelievable it was actually funny. 

“Now, we’re sitting here trying to make plans to find a way to get to Indianapolis,” Stone said. 

The timing of the program’s turnaround was unlucky because home games weren’t open to the public due to the pandemic. But, the viewing party created a good chance for fans to come back to the stadium, despite having to socially distance. 

“Oh my gosh, it’s so exciting to be back in the stadium,” Lovin said. “We come to basketball games and football games, and we’re just glad to be back.”

Norfolk State won the MEAC Tournament to punch their ticket to the Big Dance and is currently on a six-game winning streak. It’s the Spartans’ second trip to the D-I tournament in school history, the first since 2012 when they upset No. 2 seed Missouri. 

It’s App State’s third trip to the dance in program history, with all three separated by 21 seasons: 1979, 2000 and 2021. The Mountaineers enter the game on a four-game win streak, winning four games in as many days at the Sun Belt tournament March 5-8. 

“It sounds daunting, but Appalachian has a good history of surprising us,” Lovin said.