Students get a break, Mountaineer basketball keeps going

Graduate+student+guard+Tyree+Boykin+dribbles+past+a+James+Madison+defender+Jan.+7%2C+2023.+

Courtesy of Charlie Ventura, App State Athletics

Graduate student guard Tyree Boykin dribbles past a James Madison defender Jan. 7, 2023.

Kolby Shea, Reporter

While exam season ended for students, the App State basketball season continued. During winter break, the Mountaineers won four games and lost four games. It was four and a half weeks on an emotional roller coaster for fans of the Black and Gold.

First, the Mountaineers hosted the Regent Royals, a small Christian college in Virginia, and got a blowout win. The final score was 100-32 as App State shot an impressive 60% from the field. Defensive intensity aided the Mountaineer’s offensive success as they racked up 14 steals on the night. As starters, sophomore forward Christopher Mantis led all scorers with 17 points, and freshman forward Justin Abson added 11 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. 

The Mountaineers also received great production from the bench, highlighted by a 14-point, 12-rebound double-double from graduate transfer forward Tamell Pearson and eight points in only six minutes from senior guard Andrew Muse. App State dominated at home before heading into a three-game road trip. 

App State then faced the University of California, Santa Barbara, for a neutral site game in Phoenix. This game was a part of the fourth annual Jerry Colangelo Classic put on by the Basketball Hall of Fame. The game ended in a Mountaineer loss after a dominant second half from UCSB, out-scoring App State by 13. The lapse in the second half resulted in a final score of 61-50. 

The Black and Gold struggled to shoot, hitting only 21% of their three-point attempts and 50% of their free throws. Grad transfer guard Tyree Boykin led the team with 14 points and six rebounds off the bench, the only Mountaineer to reach double-digit points. Abson dominated defensively, as he has much of this season, totaling three blocks in this game. It was a tough loss heading into an eight-day break of their own. 

The Mountaineers next traveled to face Marshall in their first Sun Belt conference game of the season. App State was only losing by seven at halftime but once again got blown out in the second half by 19 points, resulting in a 26-point loss, 79-53. 

Junior forward CJ Huntley releases a floater with his left hand against UC Santa Barbara Dec. 21, 2022. (Courtesy of App State Athletics)

Another similarity to the last game was the poor shooting from the free-throw line, as they only shot 48% on 23 attempts. The rebounding margin contributed significantly to the loss, as the Mountaineers came away with 25 fewer rebounds than the Thundering Herd, a recipe for defeat. 

Boykin again led the team with 20 points while shooting 50% from the three-point line. Grad transfer forward Dibaji Walker came off the bench and provided a nice seven points and four rebounds. This was not how head coach Dustin Kerns wanted to start conference play, but this was only one game in a long season. 

Two days later, App State was in Mississippi to face Southern Miss for its last game of 2022. Up three at halftime, App State lost control and lost by a score of 76-70, its third loss in a row. 

The Mountaineers faced similar second-half struggles as they had in their previous two losses but ended the trend of poor free throw shooting. The team shot 92% from the line, a stark difference from their last two outings. Mantis led App State with 13 points, but the scoring was spread out with three other starters scoring in double-figures. The Mountaineers would be going into the new year with a resolution to make some changes and get back into the win column. 

After a few days of rest, App State finally returned to Boone and hosted Coastal Carolina. The game remained close for the full 40 minutes, but the Mountaineers came out on top, 63-62, as junior forward CJ Huntley hit the game-winning put-back layup as time expired. 

After two made free throws put the Chanticleers up by one, the Mountaineers had eight seconds to make something happen. Boykin shot a corner three that hit the front rim and bounced off, but Huntley soared into the paint to grab the rebound and put up another shot before the clock hit zero. This time it went down. 

The Black and Gold struggled to get to the free-throw line, with only seven attempts but also shot poorly when they did get fouled, hitting only one of the seven. The Mountaineers shined defensively, forcing 14 Coastal Carolina turnovers. Boykin led App State in scoring with 16 points on 45% shooting from beyond the three-point line. Pearson, once again, had an impressive game off the bench, scoring 12 points on 60% shooting from the field. The Mountaineers celebrated a dramatic finish, their first conference win and a great start to 2023. 

After the excitement of the last game, App State had to refocus on its next challenge: going on the road to face James Madison two days later. The Mountaineers had a huge first half, going into the locker room at halftime with a 15-point lead. The strong first 20 minutes helped them coast to a 71-62 victory. 

Huntley continued to thrive, two days after a game-winner and one day removed from his birthday, as he scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Boykin added 14 points, sophomore guard Terence Harcum came off the bench and led the team with 16 points, and senior forward Donovan Gregory did a little bit of everything with six points, nine assists and six rebounds. The win made the Mountaineers 2-0 in 2023 and 2-2 in the Sun Belt. 

The Black and Gold had a small break before they welcomed Georgia Southern to the Holmes Center. With only five seconds left, Gregory hit a jump shot to tie the game, but Georgia Southern came down and hit a shot of their own as time expired to beat the Mountaineers.

In this game, the Mountaineers shot only 24% from three, a struggle that has appeared multiple times this season. The App State top performers were Gregory with 21 points, Boykin with 13 and Abson with 11 points and four blocks. The loss seemed to be less about who was the better team and more about who had the ball last. 

Finally, three days away from the first day of classes, the Troy Trojans came into town to face the Mountaineers. App State played two solid halves of basketball, leading to a 58-45 win. On offense, they got to the free-throw line 20 times and converted 15 of those attempts, which made up for the 24% shooting from beyond the arc. Defensively, they forced 16 Trojan turnovers and held Troy to 27% from the field and 16% from three. Harcum had 15 points to lead all scoring, while Gregory added 11 points and two steals. Freshman guard Zocko Littleton Jr. played just three minutes, but they were his first significant minutes of the season, as he was previously logging minutes solely as a reserve during blowout wins. The Mountaineers picked up a big conference win, hoping to make another run to the NCAA Tournament in March. 

During December, the Mountaineers experienced a winter cold streak but started the new year melting that ice. As students return to campus and classes, the Mountaineers continue their conference schedule. Their next home game is against Georgia State Jan. 26.