Appalachian State came into their New Year’s Eve game at Texas State having won three of their previous four games and on a plus-33 scoring margin over the previous 45 minutes of game play through their last two games.
The Mountaineers came into the Texas State game averaging 80 points per game which was not only third in the Sun Belt, but also a 15 percent improvement over last season.
But Texas State took Appalachian totally away from that offense, at least in the first half, and the Mountaineers found themselves unable to dig out of an early hole, despite a start to the second half that couldn’t have been more different than the first half.
So, What Went Down?
APP STATE OFFENSE
App State didn’t show up in the first half, plain and simple. Just 19 points on 27% shooting and 1-12 from the three-point line, and even seven offensive rebounds produced only five points. The first 20:00 of play saw just a single Mountaineer assist.
It was Appalachian’s worst first half of the season.
Then, came the halftime metamorphosis. The team that literally struggled to make any shot in the first half nearly couldn’t miss, at least to start the second half. Eight of their first nine shots dropped, which became 10 of 12 and after about 9:00 a 16-point halftime deficit had melted down to just five.
But, with possession and a chance to trim the lead further App State’s Griffin Kinney broke loose for an easy basket that would bring the deficit within a possession. However, Kinney’s two-hand dunk attempt rattled out, and from that point until the end of the game the white-hot Mountaineer offense stalled.
Even with eventually cutting that lead down to three points with 8:11 remaining, App State could manage just 5-18 shooting to finish, including Kinney’s missed gimme. After scoring 25 points in just 8:31 to start the half the Mountaineers finished with just 14 over the final 11:29.
The brilliant App State comeback was powered by veterans Ronshad Shabazz, who drained three-pointers on three consecutive possessions at one point, and Kinney, who tied a season-high with 13 points, as they scored 19 of Appalachian’s first 21 points in the second half.
In contrast to the first half, the Mountaineers had nine second-half assists on 15 made baskets.
But, the home stretch cold spell, which included four-plus minute scoreless drought, was reminiscent of earlier close games where App failed to finish effectively:
- Leading Davidson 68-67 with 5:44 to play in the season-opener, Appalachian was outscored 19-6 to end the loss.
- In a game very reminiscent of Texas State, App State nearly dug themselves out of a 13-point hole at Charlotte to trail 76-71 with 5:03 left in the game. The Niners held App to just one point the rest of the way in the 80-72 loss.
- In a 58-53 home loss to Western Carolina, Appalachian was outscored 5-2 during the final 0:38 of the bitter defeat.
This version of the Mountaineers is obviously much more dangerous offensively than either of Head Coach Jim Fox’s previous two App State teams, but they’re struggling to grow past the recurrence of slow starts and sputtering finishes.
APP STATE DEFENSE
Appalachian is at their most productive offensively when they’re as effective defensively.
In the first half at Texas State scored as they wanted, right at the rim, shooting 54% from the floor and scored 18 of their 35 points in the paint. As seems to happen to App State often, as well, the Bobcats were also uncannily accurate from the three-point line. Normally a 32% three-point shooting team, Texas State shot 50% in the first half and 46% for the game.
Texas State’s offense ran with great precision in the first half and diced the Mountaineer’s man-to-man defense. Not helping the situation were 10 Appalachian turnovers which the Bobcats turned into easy scores.
But, in the second half App State switched to a heavy dose of the 1-2-2 moving zone with a lengthy and athletic defender, usually Tyrell or Isaac Johnson or Craig Hinton, at the point of the zone. This greatly impacted the sharp passing game Texas State uses so well, especially as the shot clock is dwindling.
Texas State’s shooting accuracy dropped by 10% and their three-point scores were cut in half from the opening 20 minutes.
As much as using the zone is counter to Fox’s preferred strategy it has been highly effective when utilized so far this season.
Kelvin Robinson, who has been struggling with his shot of late, took advantage of his driving ability to convert inside the arc (3-4 from the floor) but went 0-4 from three-point range. Still, in typical Robinson fashion, he impacted the game in multiple ways, with four assists, four rebounds, a block and a steal. Isaac Johnson’s activity level and nose for the ball was evident, as he grabbed five offensive rebounds. The Bobcats made it tough for him to convert them into scores (2-5 from the floor) but that didn’t prevent Isaac from his normal attacking mentality. As has happened in instances with especially physical defenders, Pat Good found it difficult to get clean looks and was 0-4 from the floor and missed three shots from the arc.
Craig Hinton continues to define his role, sometimes differently in each game. In this instance, he played the point of that zone defense well and also converted an offensive putback score.
No time to linger on the loss in San Marcos, as arguably the Sun Belt’s best team is waiting to host Appalachian Monday night at 8:00 PM EST.
UT-Arlington sits at 11-3 with a Sun Belt best #22 RPI ranking after dropping Coastal Carolina on New Year’s Eve 90-69. The Mavs are very experienced and tough. They make you pay for every mistake and are especially good at forcing teams in difficult situations.
But, before App State focuses on UTA they need to gain better control of their own pace and execution. The slow starts continue to be perplexing; but in the Mountaineer’s wins they’ve averaged a 7-8 point lead by the 10:00 mark of the first half. When App starts well they typically win.
Arlington doesn’t necessarily overwhelm opponents but they do whatever is necessary to win. Again, they’re effective at dictating the action to their advantage. But, if Appalachian can maintain composure early and keep the game close into the second half then the Mavs generally aren’t a team that can run away from opponents on scoring alone.