Forrest breaks 2,000 points, Mountaineers move to first in conference


Courtesy of Andy McLean, App State Athletics

Senior guard Michael Almonacy drives past an Arkansas State defender in App State’s 61-54 Thursday night victory.

Evan Bischoff and Zach Smith

A crowd of over 3,000 watched as App State men’s basketball beat the Red Wolves from Arkansas State and moved to first place in the Sun Belt. The Black and Gold saw four players score double-digit points in the storyline-filled victory Thursday night, which also saw senior guard Justin Forrest become the third Mountaineer to reach 2,000 career points.

“That has been our strength right now, our balance,” head coach Dustin Kerns said.

Both teams opened the game slowly by not scoring in the first three minutes. Arkansas State opened the scoring, but graduate guard Michael Almonacy quickly responded with a three-pointer, and App State never looked back, leading for the rest of the game. The game eventually picked up pace with less than six minutes remaining in the half, and the Mountaineers went into the break with a 33-27 lead after Forrest drained a three-point shot at the buzzer. 

App State opened the second half on a 10-5 run over Arkansas State with the help of senior  guard Adrian Delph, who scored the first five points of the period. Later, the Mountaineers scored on back-to-back dunks followed by a three-pointer by sophomore guard Michael Eads Jr., his only points of the game. 

Forrest reached a major milestone in his career, scoring his 2,000th career point late in the first half with a step-back three-pointer. Finishing with 13 points, four rebounds and five assists, Forrest played a key role in pushing the Black and Gold to a seven-point victory over the Red Wolves. 

Head coach Dustin Kerns celebrates with the Mountaineer student section following App State’s victory over Arkansas State. (Courtesy of Andy McLean, App State Athletics)

On a night with extremely high stakes, the crowd, and especially the student section, created a rowdy atmosphere. The 3,000-person crowd could be heard all the way up to the nosebleeds, especially late game when the realization of first place was imminent. To begin the game, Arkansas State shot three airballs, which the crowd responded to with the famous chant, “airball, airball, airball,” resonating throughout the arena. The crowd stayed loud for the remainder of the game and was instrumental in the pivotal win. 

“It’s everything. Last year we didn’t play with no fans, so just having the fans, you know, was great,” Almonacy said. 

The student section has been a huge positive for App State this season. Last year involved no home crowds due to the pandemic, and in the 2019-20 season, App State averaged just 1,685 fans per home game compared to an average of over 2,300 fans this season. In fact, the Mountaineers have only drawn less than 2,000 fewer total fans across the 2021-22 season than the entirety of the 2019-20 season, despite having played five fewer home games. 

“It’s huge to have a home court atmosphere,” Kerns said. “There’s no question that impacted the game. There is no question. And so, can’t thank them enough, and let’s keep it going.”

Overall, it was a stellar shooting night for the Black and Gold, shooting 38.1% from the three-point line, which is 6.6% higher than the season average. One of the main contributors to this high-efficiency attack was Forrest, who went 3-6 from three-point range. In addition to Forrest, Almonacy went 2-4 and Eads went 1-2 from three-point range. Forrest and Almonacy both finished the game with 13 points, while junior forward Donovan Gregory and Delph scored 11 and 10, respectively.

In addition to its impressive three-point percentage, App State out-rebounded Arkansas State 39-35, which has been a strong point for the Mountaineers this season. 

One of the other major contributing factors to this high-stakes game was the limited amount of free throw attempts that App State allowed. Arkansas State went into the game shooting 14.4 free throws per game, and tonight, the Red Wolves were held to eight free throw attempts and only shot 50% on those attempts. 

App State’s next game is Saturday against Little Rock back at the Holmes Convocation Center. ESPN+ will broadcast the game at 4 p.m.