It started off well enough. Appalachian State jumped out to a 10-4 lead over Georgia State on the strength of seven early points from Ronshad Shabazz and the rest from Tyrell Johnson, who was on his way to a career game.
Even when Georgia State responded, the Mountaineers were within a possession or two nearly the entire opening half.
Georgia State’s five-point halftime lead had been padded by a startling 13 App State turnovers, which contributed 12 of the Panthers’ 37 points. Additionally, GSU held a plus-four point advantage on second-chance points, a typical strength of Appalachian’s and a weakness for the Panthers. But, those things were correctable.
On the power of a six-point advantage at the free-throw line, App State stayed in it up until halftime.
But, as soon as halftime ended Georgia State stepped on the gas and ran the Mountaineers over. An opening 18-5 Panther run over roughly 6:00 to start the half featured 64% shooting from Georgia State and just 14% and three turnovers from Appalachian. The lead ballooned to 20 and despite a valiant comeback effort that saw App State cut the deficit to as low as nine points with 5:29 remaining the game was already over.
Again, it’s an all too familiar refrain. App State is not outclassed by anyone in the Sun Belt but their record is a reflection that their margin for error is thinner than the executional failures that continue to plague the Mountaineers.
So, What Went Down?
APP STATE OFFENSE
Ronshad Shabazz came out with the same fire that accompanied him in the previous game at Georgia Southern. Shabazz had seven points in the first 3:21 of the game, until Georgia State started running everyone but the mascot at him in double-teams.
Even with Shabazz’s looks reduced, the Mountaineers found another way to score. Tyrell Johnson made the most of a homecoming to Atlanta, scoring 13 in the opening half while potential help defenders instead chased Shabazz.
Together, Shabazz and Johnson scored 27 of App State 32 first-half points. The remainder of the team was a combined 1-8 from the floor for just eight points. Still, the halftime deficit was only seven points.
But when Georgia State made defensive adjustments to corral Shabazz by pushing their zone even further out on the floor and started fronting Johnson on every possession the offense stalled. The two combined for only 13 points in the second half and Shabazz was 2-9 from the floor.
The attention on Johnson did open up more room for Griffin Kinney, who went for 12 points in the final 20:00, and Pat Good hit four three-pointers. But it wasn’t enough to offset the 44-point second-half outburst from GSU.
One good bit of news offensively in the second half was that App State put up 40 points, in spite of stone-cold shooting from the three-point line (4-16, with the only four makes coming from Good). There were only two turnovers in the second half, and Appalachian saw their shot attempts increase by 33%. The Mountaineers also got to the free-throw line nearly double their rate from the first half.
Overall, Appalachian scoring increased by more than 30% in the second half. It really wasn’t offense that was the problem.
APP STATE DEFENSE
It was a perplexing game defensively for Appalachian. On the one hand they did a tremendous job on leading scorer Jeremy Hollowell, holding him to nine points overall (10 less than his Sun Belt game average) and just one in the second half.
But, in doing so, they allowed another complementary player to more than make up for the 10 points they were missing from Hollowell. Freshman guard D’Marcus Simonds averaged 10 per game coming into the night but scored 25.
Appalachian is also missing Kelvin Robinson’s (and perhaps Jake Wilson’s ability to guard the rim) defensive presence perhaps more than anticipated as the Panthers drove to the basket repeatedly all night, through both App State’s man-to-man and zone defenses.
By the end, the points-in-the-paint comparison ended with a shocking 56-18 Georgia State advantage and as equally a shocking 57% shooting percentage for the game.
As has been his early-career pattern, Pat Good bounced back from a tough game with a strong performance. His 15 points were valuable in offsetting very poor offensive performances from Jake Babic and Emarius Logan, who combined to go 0-6 from the floor with three assists and eight turnovers. Isaac Johnson was quiet from the field (just four points) but noisy on the glass with eight boards.
Craig Hinton did not play with his recent offensive aggression, which is his tendency. Let’s see if he exhibits the same type of bounce-back potential that Good has shown.
Back home again, where Appalachian is 5-2 for the season. Coming to visit are UT-Arlington (15-5 overall, 5-2 in league for 2nd place) and Texas State (11-8 overall, 4-3 in league for 5th place tie) a little less than one month since we saw them both at their places.
2-0 is perfection, 1-1 is most likely, and 0-2 is disastrous. But, at 1-6 overall Appalachian needs to start stringing together wins, especially with seven of the final 11 at home.
If the Mountaineers can manage 5-2 at home and 2-2 on the road the rest of the way perhaps those eight wins get them out of an opening round Sun Belt Tournament game with the Georgia Southerns and UTAs of the world, and more into the Arkansas States (App’s only league win) and Texas States (who App played tough in San Marcos).
The latter of those scenarios gives App State a much better chance to advance beyond the opening day.