It was right there, yet again. Appalachian State was in a winnable position late in the game against Little Rock. When Kelvin Robinson converted a three-point play with 4:17 remaining in the second half the Mountaineers led 63-62. It had been a tight game all day, featuring seven ties and eight lead changes, but Appalachian was in position to take a much-needed home win.
From that moment on a veteran Little Rock team with a history of winning outscored App State 14-5. Credit the Trojans for making shots, often tough ones, including a dagger desperation three-pointer with 0:31 left to push a three-point lead to six and seal the win.
But, the Mountaineers’ inability to sustain consistent scoring struck again when it meant the most – during winning time. But there were also failures on the defensive end, most specifically on the glass:
- At 4:00, Little Rock misses a three-pointer but gets a second-chance rebound that results in two free throws and a 64-63 lead.
- At 1:45, a driving miss by the Trojans ends up being kicked out on an offensive rebound for a three-pointer that stretched a three-point Little Rock lead to six.
Combine those with an App State offense that finished the game 1-6 from the floor and a Little Rock team that finished 4-6, and the Mountaineers had fallen to 1-5 in games that were within six points with 5:00 or less left in the game.
So, What Went Down?
APP STATE OFFENSE
Appalachian got off to a great start in the game. The inside offensive game was incredibly effective, led by Griffin Kinney who had six points (3-5 shooting) and 11 rebounds in the first half on the way to his third double-double in four games.
App State led by six halfway through the first half and maintained a lead for 72% of the first-half clock.
Against one of the league’s stingiest defenses, the Mountaineers played well over most of the first 20 minutes. They shot 48% from the floor, 56% from the three-point line, had six offensive rebounds, 16 points on the paint, and assisted on 69% of made baskets.
But, eight first-half turnovers resulted in seven Trojan points, which was over 20 percent of Little Rock’s total scoring in the half. Also, App State was scoreless from the free-throw line, which has been a Mountaineer strength this season.
In short, Appalachian had a good first half where they truly outplayed Little Rock for the vast majority of the opening 20 minutes, yet they found themselves tied at halftime.
The slide began after an Emarius Logan three-pointer with exactly 3:00 remaining in the first half. App State did not score again for the remainder of the half, and that stall carried over out of the locker room. In fact, over 6:31 across the two halves, starting after that Logan three-pointer, Appalachian scored just four points on 1-5 shooting from the floor and 2-6 from the free-throw line.
Over that 6:31, a five-point Mountaineer lead became an eight-point Little Rock advantage. Still, Appalachian hung in there, battled back, kept the game within sight, until they claimed that aforementioned one-point lead with 4:17 remaining in the game.
From there, the App State offense went silent. The same offense that was shooting 49% for 35:43 of the afternoon managed just 16% at the end. Little Rock 76 – App State 68.
APP STATE DEFENSE
Appalachian’s first-half offense was very effective with a caveat; Little Rock’s two leading scorers, Marcus Johnson, Jr. and Jalen Jackson, were both benched to start the game for disciplinary reasons. It made a difference, at least in Johnson’s case.
App State led 19-13 when Johnson checked in at 9:34 of the first-half, and he scored 11 of Little Rock’s next 18 points to force the halftime tie.
There were also some anomalies:
- Little Rock typically shoots 35% from the three-point line but made 56% at Appalachian.
- Center Lis Soshi normally scores 10 points per game on less than 50% shooting, but hit the Mountaineers for 15 points on 60% from the floor.
- And, App State, which is one of the better offensive-rebounding teams nationally, was minus-one in second-chance scoring.
But, as we speculated, to beat Little Rock the Mountaineers would have to out-defense the Trojans. The effort was good but just as the offense failed over the final 4:17, so did the defense. Little Rock scored 14 points with five second-chance points to finish out the eight-point win.
Pat Good was red-hot again, going 3-4 from the arc, making him 10-15 over the past two games. Kelvin Robinson was just 2-7 from the floor and had two assists, but logged less than 20 minutes for the first time in five games. Isaac Johnson was typically active, with seven rebounds and three assists, but was harassed into just a 1-5 game from the floor.
Overall, the Jim Fox rotation has tightened down to a strict nine-man cycle, with only spot minutes for that ninth player.
This is what App State wanted to avoid - desperation. At 0-3 in the Sun Belt, even with a 20-game conference schedule, the Mountaineers are now approaching must-win territory. Yes, App could tear off just as many wins in a row. There hasn’t been a conference-loss yet where Appalachian wasn’t in the game.
But, Appalachian is now a young team without the luxury of time and math on its side. As Fox said before the Little Rock game, you have to hold your home court in a league as deep as the Sun Belt.
Next up is 11-5 Arkansas State, fresh off a 15-point loss at Coastal Carolina. The Red Wolves have been perfect at home (6-0) but 5-5 on the road. This promises to be another tight game for App State. Can the Mountaineers win with a close game, and potentially much more, on the line?