Appalachian State has been in more than their share of close and winnable games this season. Before their game at Arkansas State, the Mountaineers had played in 10 games, nearly half of their total, where the game was within two possessions in either direction with less than 6:00 to play in those games. The record in those games was 3-7.
For 35:18 of the game at Arkansas State, App State played well enough to win the game but was never able to pull away. Four times in the second half Appalachian would push their lead to six points or more and every time Arkansas State would rally.
Still, the Mountaineers led for 26:39 of game time and the Red Wolves for just 9:05. Unfortunately for App State, that 9:05 included the final 3:51 of the night in a 79-78 loss that saw a veteran Arkansas State team step up against a depleted Appalachian squad.
The record in tight games drops to 3-8.
Arkansas State is undefeated at home this season and App State pushed them closer to that first loss than anyone has this season. But, the Mountaineers are way past finding value in moral victories. At 1-9 in Sun Belt play they don’t have the luxury, and that’s simply not the kind of program they’re building.
So, What Went Down?
APP STATE OFFENSE
As discussed here on many previous instances, when App State star Ronshad Shabazz has scoring support from teammates the Mountaineer offense goes to a different level. In the first half at Arkansas State we saw exactly that scenario play out.
Shabazz carried the load, as is his role, with 14 first-half points on 6-9 shooting. But, along for the ride were common starter Tyrell Johnson and new starter Craig Hinton, who each had seven points. With Shabazz’s wing men providing pop, Appalachian put up 39 first-half points against one of the league’s best defensive teams.
App shot 52% from the floor, 42% from the three-point arc, and went 8-11 from the free-throw line. If not for eight first-half turnovers that limited offensive possession and led to 10 first-half Arkansas State points (27% of their total) the Mountaineers are likely enjoying better than just a 39-37 halftime lead.
Then, in the second-half Appalachian did something they hadn’t this season. Shabazz went cold, really cold, in the second half. In fact, he actually missed two of his last three in the first half, but who was going to complain after his first 20 minutes? Shabazz went just 2 for his final 11 attempts in the game, scoring just seven of his 19 over the final 20:47.
In past games, a silent Shabazz would’ve equaled an impotent Appalachian offense. Yet, the rest of the team stepped up and took some of the pressure off of their leader. Tyrell Johnson continued his first-half aggression with nine points, Emarius Logan stepped up with five, Pat Good and Jake Babic each hit key late three-pointers and combined for 10 points.
For 15:18 of the final half, it was a complete team offensive effort. Minus Shabazz’s 1-8 shooting the rest of the lineup was 12-24 from the floor, 4-7 from the arc, and 6-7 at the free-throw line in the second-half. And, the rest of the lineup had only three turnovers in the half.
But, leading 68-66 with 4:42 left to play, Appalachian was forced to push Shabazz to the point with Logan having fouled out (more on that shortly) and Kelvin Robinson still not available. Shabazz was scoreless during that stretch and had three turnovers.
The backbreaker came as Arkansas State missed a free throw to give App the ball down three with less than 0:10 on the clock, and Shabazz lost the dribble under pressure.
Note that this is not a Shabazz diatribe (saving the diatribe for something else) because he’s been spectacular in league play for the most part. It was truly huge that the rest of the lineup stepped up when he slumped and Griffin Kinney was kept quiet with constant double-teams. But, it again demonstrates how thin the margin between a win and a loss is for App State at this point.
APP STATE DEFENSE
It was defense that had Appalachian in a position to win, and the failure to finish effectively that led to the loss.
App State held the Red Wolves to 43% shooting from the floor, just 5-18 from the arc, and they even struggled to 59.5% at the free-throw line.
Again, for over 35 minutes of game time, the Mountaineers played well enough to win on the defensive end.
But, plagued by excessive foul trouble down the stretch, App State allowed Arkansas State to go 2-3 from the floor and, with Appalachian forced to foul, the Red Wolves shot at least well enough at the free-throw line to outpace App’s sputtering offense.
We start with Craig Hinton, who made his first App State start, and responded with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Hinton’s size and ability to guard any of three different positions is providing a different and effective look in Kelvin Robinson’s absence.
Isaac Johnson was held silent more by refs than the Red Wolves, fouling out in just 12 minutes. Pat Good had six very late points, but had trouble getting clean looks in a very physical game.
Appalachian turns around and heads to Little Rock on Monday, to face a Trojan team on a four-game slide and losers in six of their last seven. It’s a game, like every single one of their 10 conference games, that App State can win.
Now, the diatribe; the Sun Belt Conference does many things well. It was a great football season, with a record number of bowl teams and a winning postseason record. When it comes to baseball and softball the league is P5 quality. But, when it comes to basketball officiating - the Sun Belt sucks. And, I mean REALLY sucks.
In each of Appalachian’s three Sun Belt seasons we’ve reached this point – a point where the quality of what was a great game was impeded by incompetent referees.
And, this isn’t about sour grapes because App State lost. Arkansas State suffered right along with the Mountaineers.
Even before six late and purposeful fouls by Appalachian, simply to extend the clock, there had been 50 fouls called in the game. As mentioned, Isaac Johnson fouled out after just 12 minutes and App State lost four guys to fouls by the end.
Arkansas State had three players with four fouls, one of who was called for his four in just four minutes on the court.
There were fouls called that didn’t happen, fouls not called that did, travelling calls missed on both sides all night, and just generally inept game management.
The horrid quality of Sun Belt officials is impacting the outcome of games and that should be unacceptable. Apparently, it hasn’t reached that point in the minds of league bureaucrats, and that’s a shame.