Appalachian State had a great offensive start against UT-Arlington. It began with a 13-6 App lead just 4:29 into the game, 22 points scored just over 10:00 through the half, and App led by three with 7:56 left until halftime.
Then, App State went the next 5:23 without a point.
Still, even with the frigid five-plus the Mountaineers trailed just 37-33 at the half to the 11-3 Mavericks.
Just 00:38 into the second half it was 37-37 and going back to the 1:10-mark of the first half Appalachian was on an 8-0 run. But, the next 8:23 saw UTA go on a 21-9 run until a Ronshad Shabazz layup at 10:00 to play made it 58-48 Arlington.
Two minutes later, a time during which App State did not score, the UTA lead was 18, and though Appalachian outscored the Mavs 21-18 until the end of the game it all added up to an 0-2 league record.
The deceptive thing about a seemingly dominant 15-point Arlington win is that App outplayed arguably the Sun Belt’s best team for nearly 60% of the game . For 23:17 of game time App State outscored UTA 56-45.
The issue was that during the additional 16:43, in scoring just 11 points during that time, the Mountaineers’ fizzling offense paved the way to a 26-point Arlington advantage that netted an 84-69 loss.
So, What Went Down?
APP STATE OFFENSE
When App State has its best offensive success the odds are good Shabazz is involved significantly in a big part of it. That 13-6 Mountaineer lead to start the game featured eight Shabazz points. An alarmed Arlington then started running multiple defenders at Shabazz, led by stopper Jalen Jones, and Shabazz’s next points came 26:37 later.
However, in the meantime, Pat Good came off the bench and was primarily responsible for keeping the Appalachian offense afloat until halftime, with nine points on 3-4 shooting from the arc.
Then, fellow freshman Isaac Johnson joined Good in carrying the App State scoring game in the second half. Even as the deficit grew amidst terrible shooting from the starting back court (combined 2-11 in the second half) Johnson and Good teamed up for 22 points on 8-12 shooting in the final 20 minutes.
Despite Good’s tremendous night from long-range (seven three-pointers in a game is 10th in App State history) the Mountaineers were just 2-20 from the arc separate of Good. In the process, Appalachian wasn’t working the ball into the paint, where the primary front-line rotation was actually an efficient 9-16 from the floor for 23 points.
For an App State scheme that encourages finding great looks through working the ball inside-out there seemed to be perilously little commitment to the inside half of that equation. Yet, when the Mountaineers fed the post it resulted in points more often than not.
The evidence of this came in the fact that Appalachian recorded 18 assists on 23 made baskets (78%), and typically that’s a ratio that has equated to Mountaineer wins. There simply wasn’t enough volume of those scores to keep pace.
Two areas which had been very productive for Appalachian but fell short against UTA were offensive rebounding and free-throw shooting.
App State continues to be one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the conference, at nearly 13 per game, but got crushed on the boards at Arlington. The Mavs outworked App on the offensive glass, 14-9, and the Mountaineers missed their typical double-figure second-chance points total with just seven.
Likewise, Appalachian was a near league-leader in free throw shooting at a breath under 70%, but left crucial points on the line going just 14-25 (56%) in the game. When you throw in the occasional missed front end of a one-and-one opportunity the impact was bigger than just those 11 points.
APP STATE DEFENSE
Even with the Mountaineers’ stone-cold first-half shooting performance their defense was strong enough to keep the game close at halftime. App State harassed UTA into their own 37% shooting woes and limited the looks of Sun Belt preseason player of the year Kevin Hervey to just six shot attempts.
But, in the second half point guard Erick Neal took over and ran the Maverick offense right over Appalachian. It wasn’t his scoring, as Neal went just 3-12 for the game, but rather the way he set his teammates up. Neal sliced his way through the App defense and repeatedly found teammates for easy scores.
All told, Neal had six of his seven assists for the game in the second half alone, and Hervey was the primary beneficiary with 13 points on 5-7 shooting in the final half. That attacking mentality also saw UTA parade to the free-throw (13-19 in the final 20 minutes).
As noted previously, Appalachian also got manhandled on the boards allowing the Mavericks 14 extra possessions on the night.
As already covered, Good and Isaac Johnson have again shown there isn’t likely to be a moment or Sun Belt opponent that overwhelms either. When Good is hot and gets off to a quick start there truly may not be a more effective three-point shooter in the league. His 48% shooting percentage from the arc is the best in the Sun Belt for players with at least 60 attempts. As for Johnson, our favorite stat for him is his 40-minute adjusted scoring and rebounding numbers, which average 15.4 points and 12.2 rebounds. Not to be lost was a solid bounceback game from Kelvin Robinson, who had nine points (3-6 shooting), six assists, four rebounds, and a steal.
Overall, Mountaineer freshmen accounted for 64% of Appalachian’s points, 50% of rebounds, 50% of the assists, and shot a combined 62% from the floor on the night.
App State can play with anyone in the Sun Belt this season. That doesn’t mean they won’t get manhandled somewhere along the way, but it won’t be because they just can’t keep up. That hasn’t always been the case in the past two seasons.
For example, entering this season Appalachian is 0-4 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, with an average loss-margin of 15 points.
With the exception of a couple of games (ACC) App State has shown it can hang with anyone else on the schedule, but turning the “hang with” into “pass by” is where the struggle continues. It’s a struggle built primarily on youth.
A key going forward is for the staff to recognize when these scoring droughts are starting and coming up with a “go-to” that can break the string. Then, the players have to execute it.
But don’t let any grass grow on that, because headed to Boone this weekend are Arkansas State and Little Rock, at a combined 21-9 on the season.