And so it was again; Appalachian State is in a winnable game late. On the road, of course, where the Sun Belt has engineered that the Mountaineers will play over 70% of their opening schedule away from home, but we digress.
App State has faltered down the stretch of nearly every close game they’d played but not so against Georgia Southern. From the final 2:00-mark, Appalachian finished the game on an 18-12 run. In an arena where the Mountaineers had lost by an average of 31 points per game the past two seasons this version of App State traded haymakers with the undefeated Sun Belt leaders.
But, as has been the case in nearly every Sun Belt loss, there was a key area or two of executional breakdown that Appalachian couldn’t overcome.
In the first half it was Mountaineer generosity that resulted in nearly 40% of Southern’s first-half scoring. App State surrendered 10 turnovers that led to 14 Eagle points in the opening 20 minutes. In a half where Appalachian played some effective defense and challenged Southern at the rim they also gave away easy run-out scores with their carelessness.
In the second half it happened primarily at the free-throw line, where App went 14-22 at the line for the game (including misses on the front ends of some one and ones). This was especially prevalent in the second half, where the Mountaineers teetered between a 5-10 point deficit for most of the half and shot just 56% at the line.
There is no quit in this team, absolutely none. But there has to come a point at which effort equals results. The search continues, on the road of course.
So, What Went Down?
APP STATE OFFENSE
No discussion of App State’s offense at Georgia Southern can begin without an acknowledgement of Ronshad Shabazz’s explosive 36-point performance. Something about Southern; Shabazz broke his previous career-high of 29 points, achieved last year against the Eagles in Boone, with the 16th best single-game scoring performance in Mountaineer history.
Here’s the key learning; when Shabazz has a wing man who is providing scoring support it makes Ronshad that much more effective. In the first half, Emarius Logan scored nine points and was especially effective driving with the ball. Playing off Logan, Shabazz scored 12 in the half, including 3-6 from the arc.
Near the end of the game Jake Babic, who had gone 0-5 from the floor to that point, went 4-4 with 11 points in the final 6:25. During that same period Shabazz scored 14 himself, as the shooting threat Babic posed spread the middle of the floor for Shabazz.
The opportunity to utilize the inside scoring game went unrealized for most of the afternoon, as Appalachian post players shot just 6-18 on the day. However, they did force foul trouble on Georgia Southern’s Montae Glenn, who logged just 14 minutes in the game.
What the frontline did accomplish, at least in the second half, was effective offensive rebounding, where they created nine extra possessions resulting in 10 second-chance points in the half.
Even the first-half turnover disaster was corrected in the final half, where App had only two giveaways.
The reality is that when an offense can produce 88 points the expectation should most often be victory.
APP STATE DEFENSE
It was most definitely a tale of two halves for App State defensively. In the first half the Mountaineers held Georgia Southern, more specifically Eagle point guard Tookie Brown, under wraps.
Southern’s offense goes as Brown goes, and he was 1-7 for just three points and had only one assist in the first half. Again, if not for App State’s turnover issues and the corresponding Georgia Southern scoring off of them it might’ve been expected that the Mountaineers led at halftime.
After the break the entire game shifted, as did Brown’s mentality. It was clear their staff instructed him to attack Appalachian defenders off the dribble relentlessly, spreading the floor to allow him more room to work.
The results for Brown were 29 second-half points on 6-9 shooting and 17 (!) free throws. With Kelvin Robinson out App State simply didn’t have anyone that could check Brown and it spelled the difference in the game.
Appalachian actually did a nice job of guarding the three-point line after Georgia Southern started 3-4 in the opening four minutes of the game. The Mountaineers allowed just 3-9 the rest of the way.
Robinson’s absence has made such a huge difference in the past two games defensively and App State has to figure out how to lessen that impact going forward.
It was a tough day offensively for the rookies. Pat Good was 0-4 from the floor, 0-3 from the arc and had no assists. Southern has a lot of quick and athletic guards, which has been when Good has struggled most often. Isaac Johnson scored six points on 3-8 shooting (0-2 at the FT line), though he did contribute nine rebounds (six offensive).
Craig Hinton was solid once again, with nine points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes. His ability to hang athletically with the smaller Georgia Southern lineup while using his strength and size his advantage was a unique benefit.
Appalachian will arrive at Georgia State in the desperation stage again, needing this win badly to avoid dropping four games out of the coveted fourth-place spot for Sun Belt tournament bye eligibility.
Georgia State comes in riding a three-game winning streak and at 4-2 in the conference.
The Mountaineers haven’t looked out of place yet in Sun Belt play. Haven’t stopped fighting in a game yet. But also haven’t been winning conference games.
Whatever has to happen to avoid a 1-6 start needs to happen in Atlanta.