Mountaineers fall to second in Sun Belt after 1-1 weekend


Hiatt Ellis

Graduate student guard Michael Almonacy pulls up at the high post for a midrange jump shot against Georgia State Feb. 12.

Noah Cornelius and James Parker

App State men’s basketball took down the Georgia Southern Eagles 65-61 at home Thursday but fell to the Georgia State Panthers 58-49 Saturday. After the weekend, the Mountaineers now sit second in the Sun Belt Conference.

Against Georgia Southern, the Mountaineers controlled the game early and did not let off of the gas pedal. In the first half, Georgia Southern came out of the gates quickly, scoring the first basket of the game. The Eagles got their lead up to six points before graduate student guard Michael Almonacy led a charging Mountaineer squad to the lead with 14 minutes left in the first half. The guard amassed five points before the end of the half. Junior forward Donovan Gregory aided Almonacy, also scoring five points by halftime. The third player to reach five by the break was senior guard Adrian Delph, who also dominated the glass, grabbing seven rebounds in the first half.

“We can’t do it all by ourselves. It’s going to take everybody,” Delph said. “So whoever’s hot and hitting shots, we are just gonna try to feed him the ball.”

Mountaineer fans cheer on the Black and Gold during the Thursday night matchup with Georgia Southern. (Hiatt Ellis)

In the second half, the Mountaineers extended their lead to as much as 12 points thanks to stellar play from Almonacy, Delph and Gregory. Senior forward James Lewis Jr. also contributed big in the win, reaching 10 points on the night. Lewis Jr. joined the trio as the fourth Mountaineer to score double-digits in the game. Despite a late-game effort by Eagles forward Andrei Savrasov, the Mountaineers thwarted the visiting team’s attempt to steal the game at home in the final seconds, winning 65-61.

“I’m proud of our team. It wasn’t pretty but we found a way to win,” head coach Dustin Kerns said.

Regardless of the exciting win, it was a poor shooting night for the Mountaineers. App State shot just 22% from the three-point line and 34% from the field as a whole. Nevertheless, the win established the Mountaineers’ place at the top of the Sun Belt Conference heading into their game against Georgia State on Saturday.

Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, the first-place conference ranking did not last long. At Holmes Convocation Center on Saturday, the Mountaineers started the game down 2-8 thanks to a quick Panthers scoring run. The first score for the Mountaineers came when Gregory knocked down a midrange jumper. Delph then made a layup to cut Georgia State’s lead to two. As both teams struggled to hit shots, the Panthers went on a 12-2 scoring run to secure a 20-8 lead with just over five minutes remaining in the first half. Although App State began hitting more shots later in the half, Georgia State ended the half with a 28-16 lead.

Senior guard Adrian Delph soars for a one-handed jam against Georgia State Feb. 12. (Hiatt Ellis)

Despite being down by 12 points at the half, the Mountaineers were determined to fight back. The second half started off with both teams exchanging baskets as the Mountaineers knocked down three three-point shots in four offensive possessions. With just over 15 minutes left in the half, Gregory was called for a shooting foul. Kerns took offense to the call as he argued with officials, resulting in a technical foul being called on him, only his second technical foul in three years as the head coach of the Mountaineers.

“It should have been our ball. A travel is pretty easy to call,” Kerns said. “They traveled and flopped on the shot, so it’s two bad calls in one possession, and at that point, I’d seen enough.”

The Mountaineers responded to the technical with an 11-7 scoring run led by Delph to diminish the Panthers’ lead to five with 10 minutes left in the game. Although Georgia State continued to knock down shots, Lewis Jr. threw down a two-handed dunk to keep the Mountaineers within six points of the Panthers with just over six minutes left to play.

After Georgia State expanded its lead to 11 points, App State went on a 6-0 scoring run, bringing the score to 49-45 in favor of the Panthers with just over one minute left in the game. Thanks to several late game free throws and jumpshots, the Panthers closed out the Mountaineers with a final score of 58-49.

“We just didn’t hit shots that we normally hit,” senior guard Justin Forrest said. “I’m not gonna blame it on anything else. It just wasn’t our night.”

Despite a stronger offensive performance in the second half, App State shot 30.6% from the field. They were led by Delph and Forrest, who each poured in 12 points apiece, while forward Jalen Thomas led the Eagles with 16 points in just 22 minutes. The loss drops App State from first place in the conference to second place as Texas State now boasts a better winning percentage in conference play.

The Mountaineers face off against Troy Thursday in the Holmes Convocation Center in the third game of their four-game homestand at 6:30 p.m. and can be watched on ESPN+.