AFTERMATH: UT-ARLINGTON vs. APP STATE

Every loss stings but when Appalachian State played such an effective first half against Sun Belt second-place UT-Arlington an 83-67 loss feels like more than just a 16-point defeat. How does one half feel and finish so differently from the first? A Mountaineer defense that was suffocating at points in the first 20:00 went borderline comatose in allowing a 59-point second-half to the Mavs.

For three straight games Appalachian State has played their opponents nearly even, 96 points for the Mountaineers to 100 points for the bad guys. In the most recent game against UT-Arlington, App State did it even better. They took a 32-24 lead into the halftime locker room, sparked by an otherworldly offensive performance from Ronshad Shabazz (21 points, 8-10 from the floor, 5-7 from the arc) but built upon by their best defensive half since their only Sun Belt win and last home game.

The Appalachian lead peaked at 31-16 with 3:22 left in the opening half. Even with a mini-run (6-1) by UTA, App State had their first halftime lead since December 21st.

When Arlington ran a very specific play for star Kevin Hervey to nail an open three-pointer it seemed harmless enough. Appalachian held their own to start the half, maintaining a 41-34 lead at the first media timeout. From there the game unraveled in a fashion that was as explosive as Shabazz’s 21-point first half.

Coming out of that timeout Kevin Hervey grabbed his own miss, got fouled, and sank two free throws for his 11th and 12th points of the game. From that moment on, Hervey scored another 10 points in the game and UTA outscored App State to every successive media timeout for the rest of the day:

UTA 12-4 into the under-12:00

UTA 13-8 into the under-8:00

UTA 12-8 into the under-4:00

UTA 12-5 to the end of the game

That’s UTA 49 – App 25 over the final 15:48 of the game. Arlington shot 55% from the floor in the final half (a 24% improvement over the first half), 60% from the three-point line (a 46% improvement), and scored 59 points. Not only was that a 35-point increase over the opening half but also the most points Appalachian has given up in one half all season.

Meanwhile, in a wash/rinse/repeat realization the Mountaineers made things easier for an opponent making a huge second-half run. App State left 13 points on the free-throw line (15-28), 16 turnovers gave UTA 17 points (plus-five vs. App), and the Mavs turned 14 offensive rebounds into 21 second-chance points.

So, What Went Down?

APP STATE OFFENSE

Before any discussion of the shortcomings that resulted in this loss take place there needs to be an acknowledgement of Shabazz’s recent offensive dominance. Most of (if arguably perhaps all of) the time Shabazz is the best player on any court in the Sun Belt Conference. Now, he’s playing like he believes that.

In the past three games Shabazz has averaged 29 points per game on 52% shooting overall and 50% from the arc. His 36 at Georgia Southern and 33 vs. UTA are two of the top 40 scoring games in Appalachian State Basketball history, both in the span of just one week. Appreciate what Shabazz has given us in those seven days, it’s been epic.

But, the team’s record is 0-3 during that same span, in part because of consistent failures in offensive execution of one type or another.

- In the four-point loss at Southern the Mountaineers shot 44% from the floor and hit 12 three-pointers, but went just 14-22 at the free-throw line.

- App corrected their free-throw failure against Georgia State (21-24) but could manage just 39% from the floor and 28% at the arc.

Against Arlington, outside of Shabazz the rest of the team went 9-33 (27%) from the floor and 2-14 from the three-point line. And the free-throw horror show (even Shabazz went 1-4) continued a mostly disappointing stretch mysteriously limited to Sun Belt games, where Appalachian made less than 65% of their free throws for the fifth time in eight league contests.

It was an especially dismal day for Mountaineer points guards, as Emarius Logan and Jake Babic combined to shoot just 1-8 from the floor and 0-5 from the arc with two assists and six turnovers.

Of course, stats can be split, cut, and spun in any of a thousand ways. Bottom line, the numbers that define Appalachian at this moment are 1-7 in Sun Belt play.

APP STATE DEFENSE

Another schizophrenic defensive split, another loss.

- Appalachian holds Georgia Southern to 37 first-half points and star Tookie Brown scored just three. Southern went for 55 in the second half and Brown had 26 of those.

- Georgia State scored 39 in the opening half and stretches that to 44 in the final half, with second-leading scorer D’Marcus Simonds ringing App up for 15 in the last 20:00.

App State strangled UT-Arlington with tough and organized defense in the opening half. The Mavs average 83 points a game, but put up only 24 in the first half. Star Kevin Hervey was limited to five points and just five shot attempts.

But coming out of the halftime locker room a couple of things became obvious:

First, UTA was going to get Hervey involved one way or the other. So, with the refs allowing very physical play and App clogging the paint early, the Mavs started spreading the floor and working Hervey off a ball screen at the wing. Just 11 seconds into the second half Hervey drilled a three-pointer behind an ill-defended screen, for the first of his 17 second-half points.

Next, the Mavs took knowledge from Appalachian’s previous two losses in Georgia, spreading the floor and using their guards, particularly Erick Neal, to break down Mountaineer defenders off the dribble. Neal was scoreless and assist-less in the first half, but scored nine points and dished out four assists in the final 20:00.

But the final backbreaker came with 4:05 remaining in the game; a Craig Hinton free throw cut the UTA lead down to six, and App had their chance to get a stop and potentially salvage the win. Arlington went to Hervey on the wing, Griffin Kinney was guarding Hervey when the screen came and Hervey went right with the ball. Tyrell Johnson was up guarding the screener and when Hervey came over the screen Johnson failed to attack him. Hervey made the clean look, App went down 71-62 and never felt like a threat again.

It was only a matter of a foot or so, but they were just more of the same costly inches that Appalachian has been unable to cover in this frustrating conference season.

THE NEWCOMERS

Pat Good had a quiet first half with no points on just one shot, so when he came out and drilled two three-pointers within two minutes of one another just after halftime it felt like he was ready to explode. But, those would be his only two scores of the day, on a 2-7 shooting afternoon. Isaac Johnson created his typical havoc, forcing the action with aggressive offense. In doing so he repeatedly forced UTA fouls, mostly in shooting situations, but struggled at the free-throw line (5-12).

TURNAROUND

Monday night brings Texas State to the Holmes Dome, fresh off a low-scoring, two-point win at Coastal Carolina.

App trailed just 50-48 with eight minutes remaining in San Marcos the first time the two played, but was outscored 17-8 down the stretch in the loss.

Appalachian has been much more explosive offensively in the past four games than they were earlier in the season and especially at Texas State. But, can all of the Mountaineers find a way to finish a 40-minute effort?

The answer has been a mind-numbing “no” for seven of eight games in league play.

POSTGAME PRESS CONFERENCE

HEAD COACH JIM FOX

GUARD RONSHAD SHABAZZ & CENTER GRIFFIN KINNEY


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