Men’s basketball prepares for SoCon tournament

Nineteen is the number that’s been rolling around in the heads of the men’s basketball team during this week of practice.

In a Feb. 4 home loss to the College of Charleston, the Mountaineers (12-17, 7-11) missed a staggering 19 layups, stifling their chance to put away a ballgame that was up for grabs in the first 34 minutes.

Now, Appalachian will take on the Cougars again in the opening round of the Southern Conference tournament Friday in Asheville. And this time, the team believes the score will be different.

“I firmly believe that if we get past that first game – which we will – we will win it all,” senior Omar Carter said.

A four-game win streak is the sole thing standing between Appalachian State and the third NCAA tournament appearance in school history. In practice, the Mountaineers have stressed focus and execution.

“In this setting, where you can be one-and-done, every error, every mental breakdown, every mental lapse could lead to your season being over,” head coach Jason Capel said. “We have to be dialed in. I thought we did that yesterday. We have a couple more days to prepare, but as far as confidence, we’re just as good or better than every team we’ve played this year. And I think our team knows that.”

Appalachian will focus primarily on the Cougars’ all-conference frontcourt of sophomore Trent Weideman and senior Antwaine Wiggins. The Mountaineers held the two forwards in check last game, holding the two to just 7-23 shooting, but allowed sophomore Andrew Laurence to score 24 points on 7-11 shooting.

“I feel like we’re a very effective inside team,” senior Isaac Butts said. “Last game I feel like we had them, but we’re a lot more focused now and we’re ready.”

Junior forward Nathan Healy has been the primary scoring option over the last two games, as the Mountaineers have limped into the postseason – losing their last two games. Healy’s play will be needed to add depth to the starting frontcourt of Butts and Andre Williamson.

“I’m just trying to play as hard as I can and rebound as hard as I can,” Healy said. “I’m just trying to do everything I can to win.”

Carter and the two freshman guards, Tab Hamilton and Mike Neal, are also expected to be in the starting lineup.

In a final push to pull together a disappointing season, Carter expects the Mountaineers to pull together and win the conference tournament.

“I feel like we’re the best team even though we haven’t played our best basketball,” Carter said.

If the Mountaineers beat the Cougars, they will take on SoCon North foe UNC-Greensboro Saturday afternoon.

Story: JAKE AMBERG, Sports Editor