Gregory sets career-high, men’s basketball takes sixth-straight win

Senior+guard+Michael+Almonacy+and+senior+forward+James+Lewis+Jr.+celebrate+their+sixth-straight+win+after+defeating+Arkansas+State+by+15.+

Hiatt Ellis

Senior guard Michael Almonacy and senior forward James Lewis Jr. celebrate their sixth-straight win after defeating Arkansas State by 15.

Cameron Burnett, Associate Sports Editor

On a freezing day in Boone, App State men’s basketball continued their red hot streak in conference play Saturday against Little Rock. Entering the day at the top of the Sun Belt, the Black and Gold handled business with its sixth-straight win, defeating the Trojans 72-57 to maintain their top seed. 

“It was a hard-fought game, and when you’re sitting in the position we are, you’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” head coach Dustin Kerns said. “I think our team did a great job. We had very balanced scoring so just an overall great team win.”

Just under four minutes into the game, the Mountaineers took the lead at 7-5 and came out with the double-digit victory. Junior forward Donovan Gregory was the story of the night, delivering a career-high 23 points on 8-13 shooting and 7-11 on free throws, with more attempts at the line than Little Rock as a whole.

“They weren’t really switching onto me, so it was just a wide-open lane to the rim, so we took advantage of it,” Gregory said.

Senior guard Justin Forrest sets up the Mountaineer offense against the Trojans. (Hiatt Ellis)

While App State’s halfcourt offense was dominant with only two fastbreak points, the defense shined, especially inside with senior forward James Lewis Jr. going up against the Trojans’ leading scorer Nikola Maric. The Mountaineers mixed Lewis Jr.’s physical pressure and timely double teams to frustrate Maric and limit him to 4-13 shooting and five turnovers. His frustration on offense was evident, committing a technical foul in the waning moments of the game.

“As the game went on, we felt like he could guard him one-on-one, but even then, we wanted to crowd him. He’s just outworking him, and he’s not allowing him to get catches in the scoring area,” Kerns said. “James is doing that work and doing a terrific job of just not letting the guy catch it right there on the block.”

Lewis Jr. tacked on nine rebounds to keep Little Rock off the glass with a 38-29 advantage for App State on the boards. 

Alongside Gregory’s career night, senior guard Adrian Delph continued his impressive scoring season with 19 points and nine rebounds. Sophomore forward CJ Huntley stretched the floor with 14 points and tied a career-high with four three’s on the night.

“I was feeling it probably from the warm-ups, and it was just my teammates giving me the ball and having confidence in me,” Huntley said.

The Mountaineers dominated in almost every notable statistic, and it was reflected in the win. While the numbers stacked against them, Little Rock hung around until the final three minutes. With 3:33 left, the Trojans cut the lead to 62-57, and App State cranked up the pressure, shutting out Little Rock on a closing 10-0 run with the 3,206-person crowd in the Holmes Center rallying behind the team.

“I’ve always felt like at the end of the game, one team thinks they’re going to win, and one team’s not sure, and so I think we’ve got some confidence. Doesn’t mean you’re going to win, but our guys; they’re poised. They’ve been in so many situations over the last couple years that nothing’s really phasing them,” Kerns said.

With the victory, the Mountaineers moved to 14-9 on the season and 8-2 in conference play as the top seed. Kerns’ team now has a five-day break and begins a Texas road tilt with Texas State Feb. 3. The game tips off at 8 p.m., and will be broadcasted on ESPN+.