App State’s first three possessions produced three missed three-point attempts. 4-0, NC State.
The next three possessions were all Mountaineer turnovers. But, NC State was struggling a little, too, and led just 6-0.
But when Appalachian finally made their first shot, 4:36 into the game, the Wolfpack had opened up a 10-2 lead.
App State traded baskets for a handful of possessions and was within sight at 16-8 with just over 12 minutes to go in the half. It was the last time NC State’s lead would be in the single digits.
So, What Went Down?
APP STATE OFFENSE
More of the same; it’s not that App State played badly on offense, they just shot badly. Yes, there were missed opportunities or better decision to be made, but that’s a part of every game. The looks were there, the makes were not.
There were positives:
- Offensive Rebounding: App outpaced NC State 14-7 and produced 14 second-chance points. Yeah, I know, when you miss 52 field-goal attempts you have plenty of chance for offensive boards, but you still have to fight for them.
- Turnovers: Just 11 total for Appalachian on the night, and only eight over the final 37:00-or-so minutes of play. In general, this team takes better care of the ball than either of Coach Jim Fox’s first two squads, but the few they had were also costly last night as State scored 14 points from them.
- Paint Points: For the relatively few that App State scored, 63% of their 64 points came in the paint. When they chose to attack inside the arc they were at least moderately successful.
But NC State had clearly decided they were willing to let Appalachian have perimeter looks and the Mountaineers obliged. App State went just 4-29 from the arc in the game. They weren’t bad looks, but they were horrible results.
Now the question becomes how much have the incomprehensible issues with gravity that have befallen this offense gotten into the players’ heads?
APP STATE DEFENSE
The weight of an unproductive offense also influences defensive performance. Honestly, App State wasn’t bad for the first 7:00 or so minutes of the first half, when they were still within eight. But the Wolfpack guards attacked Appalachian relentlessly off the dribble, and lived on the free-throw line all night.
In an interesting anomaly, NC State’s starting guards, which have been the backbone of their scoring, shot just 9-19 from the floor in the game but went a startling 19-23 at the free-throw line. All told, the Wolfpack shot 41 free throws in the game.
And there were multiple maddening instance of App State guards fouling jump-shooters in the act. It became clear that State’s guards began looking to invite that contact on those attempts, and repeatedly App defenders took the bait.
Appalachian did limit second-chance attempts for State, who had just four offensive rebounds in the game, and the Mountaineers forced 13 turnovers worth 14 points.
With the NC State back court attacking off the dribble continuously, it begs the question of why didn’t Appalachian mix in more zone defense? Anything to change the pace and clog the floor inside the three-point line.
In what seemed an inadequate amount of just 19 minutes, Isaac Johnson once again produced an impressive stat line with nine points and six rebounds. Meanwhile, guards Kelvin Robinson and Patrick Good struggled through a terrible shooting night, combining to go 1-13 from the floor and 0-7 from the arc. Zach Cottrell logged a handful of minutes late in the second half.
As anticipated, Jake Wilson had a bigger role with 18 minutes in the game and Craig Hinton had three points and three rebounds in 12 minutes.
Now comes the most important week of App State Basketball to date, this season. Back-to-back home games with James Madison (1-8) and Hampton (2-7) offer opportunities for the Mountaineers to regain their offensive confidence and get two much needed wins before conference play begins on New Year’s Eve.
Going into a Texas-sized road trip to start Sun Belt play will be much different at 5-6 than anything less.
And will Fox start to tighten his rotation down further or does the lineup experimentation continue into January? At this point, nine different Apps average double-digit minutes and the rotation can arguably include the mention of 12 different players. In the interest of chemistry and familiarity, does an 8-9 man primary cycle make more sense?
It’s the mental state of this team that is the more immediate concern. “Must-win” games are most often fan and media-induced dramatics assigned to games that carry far less actual weight. But, after letting a more-then-winnable home game slip away to Western Carolina, this week’s series certainly takes on additional significance.
These next games have the feel of the two most significant of the Fox era to this point.