Mountaineers slip by Bobcats in exhibition opener


Cory Spiers

App State men’s basketball took advantage of a strong second-half showing and a late layup from junior guard Frank Eaves to beat visiting Lees-McRae 71-69 in the team’s first game under new head coach Jim Fox.

The exhibition game started off with a quick pace, as the two teams combined for 19 points in the first four minutes of the game.

The Mountaineers offense was led by sophomore forward Mike Kobani, who notched six points and grabbed two rebounds in the game’s first four minutes.

The back-and-forth opening half featured seven lead changes, with the score tied only once. The Mountaineers fell behind by as many as nine points, but battled back to close the half trailing 37-34.

Lees-McRae outscored App State on points off turnovers in the half 13-5, a factor that Fox said was key to the the Bobcats taking a lead into halftime.

“We want to attack people,” Fox said. “That will give us easy shots, but we have to be smart with the ball.”

App State flipped the script on the Bobcats early in the second half, however, as a 13-4 run gave the Mountaineers a lead they would relinquish only in the final minute of the game.

Eaves continued to lead the Mountaineers, and fired up the crowd by completing a four-point play as he drained a shot while falling down after heavy contact and made the ensuing free throw.

App State led by nine in the second half, but the Bobcats refused to go away, making the game a close one to the end.

The Bobcats tied the game for the first time since the opening minutes of the second half when junior guard Kendall Isler drew contact as he drove the lane, scored, was fouled and completed a 3-point play to tie the game at 69 with 38 seconds remaining.

Eaves took the ball up the court and after allowing some time to come off the clock, Fox called a timeout.

The Mountaineers inbounded the ball with 11.4 seconds, which ended up in the hands of Eaves, who drove to the basket from the left side and dropped in a layup in traffic to give the Mountaineers a 71-69 lead that would hold up as the final score.

“[The play] was actually for [Jacob] Lawson to go isolation, but I saw it open up and I just had to attack,” Eaves said of the final basket. “I’m glad my teammates had the confidence in me to take that play and make that shot. It wasn’t the play, but it worked out well.”

The Bobcats had four seconds to work with following the layup, but their desperation game-winning shot attempt bounced off of the backboard.

Eaves, who finished with a team-high 22 points and went 7-16 from the field, said the exhibition served as a learning tool for the Mountaineers.

“I think it was a good team win,” Eaves said. “I think this benefited us more than if we had blown them out. It was a real game scenario. It was better for us to have this game early.”

Fifth-year senior forward Tommy Spagnolo, who led the team with 13 rebounds, also said playing in a close game was good for the team.

“It was a great experience for us,” Spagnolo said. “It was a close game, and that will help us down the stretch.”

App State shot 42.4 percent from the field while holding the Bobcats to 32.4 percent.

Fox said he was pleased with the shooting percentage, but the offense ultimately struggled to score against the Lees-McRae zone defense.

“Obviously, we did some good things,” Fox said. “A lot of the struggles we had offensively is on me because we did not prepare a lot for zone defenses yet. We haven’t worked on that as much as we should have.”

Fox said the most important thing to work on going forward is cutting down on turnovers. The Mountaineers committed 20 turnovers and allowed 23 Bobcats points off of those miscues.

“We can’t turn the ball over 20 times,” Fox said. “It seemed like we were quarterbacks for the New York Jets – we were throwing interceptions for touchdowns. That’s something we have to fix.”

App State gets its first taste of regular season action when the team takes on Ohio on the road Nov. 15. Tipoff for that game is set for 2 p.m.

Story: Cory Spiers, Sports Editor

Photo: Malik Rahili, Visual Managing Editor