Appalachian State arrived to play South Alabama with confidence they haven’t enjoyed all season, thanks to a two-game winning streak over two Sun Belt leaders. That confidence continued during the first 20:00 in Mobile, even if the execution left something to be desired.
But, in the second half, a veteran Jaguar team came out and attacked Appalachian, especially leading scorer Ken Williams, and another unfortunately-predictable horrendous Sun Belt officiating performance influenced the Mountaineers even further.
Ultimately, App State could’ve potentially killed South Alabama’s will in the first half, when poor ball security turned what might’ve been a 45-50 point scoring half into a 36-30 halftime advantage. The Mountaineers shot the ball effectively (45% from the floor, 42% from the three-point line) but gave away 10 possessions via turnover. Not only did South Alabama scored over a quarter of their first-half points from those turnovers, but Appalachian also lost those additional scoring chances.
Additionally, the Mountaineers had hounded Williams, the Jags’ leading scorer, into 0-3 shooting and just two points in the first half. If those turnovers don’t allow South Alabama some easy scores and rob App State of scoring opportunities the tone going into the locker room is likely very different for both teams.
Then, a veteran Jaguar team came out to open the second half determined to get Williams started and to harass Appalachian with physical defense. It worked.
Repeatedly running a high-screen set, Williams scored 18 points in the second half and when App State started the half shooting 0-6 from the floor with three more turnovers the first half seemed light years away. The six-point halftime lead was gone in 2:17 and Appalachian didn’t score until an Isaac Johnson three-pointer 4:46 into the half.
Despite the staggering start, the Mountaineers were tied at 39-39 on that Johnson score, still with plenty of time to right the ship. But, back-to-back three point baskets, from a South Alabama team that has been the league’s worst three-point shooting team, gave the Jags a lead they would never surrender.
Additionally, Appalachian was called for 21 second-half fouls, as the officiating crew totally changed the way they called the game from the first half. With the entire Mountaineer front line struggling with foul trouble South Alabama scored 18 points in the paint and mauled App State with offensive rebounds in the second half. It was a referee-induced condition.
So, What Went Down?
APP STATE OFFENSE
App State found success offensively in the first half, when they avoided the turnovers, led by Craig Hinton (10 points, 3-5 from the floor with two threes), Bennett Holley (six points on two threes), and Griffin Kinney (six points, six rebounds). Even with very limited back court production and the continued struggles of leading scorer Ronshad Shabazz, the Mountaineers were within sight of their 80-point scoring average from the past two games.
In the second half, South Alabama attacked Kinney with double and even triple teams, and he went just 2-8 in the half. Isaac Johnson was creating issues for the Jags with his face-up game (seven points on 3-3 shooting in the half) but the foul trouble limited his minutes. Tyrell Johnson (four points in just 15 minutes for the game) simply never got involved.
In shutting down Appalachian’s inside game South Alabama forced the Mountaineer back court to beat them and the guards simply couldn’t deliver. The rotation of Shabazz, Emarius Logan, Pat Good, and Jake Babic shot just 8-25 from the floor and 2-11 from the three-point line on the night.
In addition, Appalachian converted just eight of 17 second-half free-throw attempts, which were especially costly during points in the game where the Mountaineers were still in it on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, USA was busy making almost 80% of their free throws in the half, where they claimed an 11-point scoring advantage at the line over the final 20 minutes.
APP STATE DEFENSE
App State did a great job of containing Williams early, but once he got going in the second-half, aided heavily by the schizophrenic officiating, the South Alabama offense opened up for everyone.
While the Appalachian front-line rotation of Kinney, Hinton, and both Isaac and Tyrell Johnson all spent time on the bench with significant foul trouble, the Jags started attacking the paint repeatedly in the second half.
South Alabama shot 57% in the half and went to the free-throw line 24 times. They also snagged seven offensive rebounds in the second half and outrebounded Appalachian 39-33 for the game. As with their three-point shooting, South Alabama came into the game as nearly the worst rebounding team in the league, but still outperformed App State on the glass.
Isaac Johnson created issues for South Alabama until the foul trouble limited his minutes and aggression. Still, Johnson finished with 11 points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes. Pat Good was the first victim of foul trouble with two quick first-half fouls (the second of which was very questionable) and he was held scoreless on just one shot attempt.
Craig Hinton led the team with 13 points, powered by 3-6 from the arc, and also grabbed five rebounds.
On to Troy, and at just the right time. You see, App State has never lost to Troy (6-0 all time) and this is the Mountaineers’ last chance to win a conference road game this season.
Ultimately, it won’t likely change anything significantly in terms of seeding for the upcoming Sun Belt Tournament, but it matters greatly to a team that has struggled away from the Homes Center this season.
It’s the type of game App State has to start winning, simply because they’re capable of it.