Appalachian State came out for their final home game of the season more than ready to play. By 14:01 Appalachian led 12-2, at 10:16 it was 20-8, at 6:54 the lead had grown to 31-17, and crested at 48-28 with just 25 seconds remaining in the half.
With their 48-30 halftime lead, the Mountaineers had led for 19:35 of the first half.
For the fourth time in the past seven games App State led at halftime, but just once in those previous four games did that lead hold up until the final buzzer. And, against Coastal Carolina it appeared this lead would disappear, as well.
Coastal jumped out to a 9-4 run by the first media timeout of the second half. It was a 17-6 run by the under-12:00. When Coastal made a three-pointer with 8:08 remaining in the game Appalachian’s one-time 20-point lead was gone, minus two.
This was the point in most previous games when App State has not only let the lead get away, but the outcome, as well.
But, not on this day. App State outscored Coastal 20-14 from that point on, triggered by key plays and a defense that held the Chanticleers without a field goal from 2:46 until just 0:03 remained in the game.
App State won 77-73.
So, What Went Down?
APP STATE OFFENSE
App State’s offense started out 4-6 from the floor in building that 12-2 early lead. They played great team offense, with assists on nine of their first 10 made shots. With Griffin Kinney hurting Coastal inside (eight first-half points) the floor opened up for Mountaineer shooters, who made seven three-pointers in the opening half.
At one point in the first half Emarius Logan, Jake Babic, and Bennett Holley hit back-to-back-to-back threes for a 10-point Mountaineer lead.
Ronshad Shabazz wasn’t making much from the arc (just 1-6 for the game) but he was killing Coastal off the dribble. He shot 4-8 inside the three-point line and got to the free-throw line nine times (7-9 for the game). Shabazz had averaged less than 3.5 free-throw attempts per game through the first 26 games, but over the past three he’s more than doubled that standard.
Still, Appalachian faltered offensively in the second half as Coastal switched to a match-up zone. Unable to work the ball inside effectively (16 points in the paint in first half but just six in the second) the open perimeter looks also dried up (only 1-13 from the arc in the second half).
But, the Mountaineers survived by attacking the basket and earning trips to the free-throw line early and often. On a day when referees’ whistles were far too invasive, the team which capitalized at the line was likely to win the game.
Appalachian was 25-34 for the game, and Coastal went just 18-33.
But, the play of the game came with just 0:52 remaining; Appalachian led 69-68 and a Mountaineer jumper bounced high off the rim. Babic, working along the baseline, was able to get a hand on the ball, tapping it out to Kelvin Robinson who drove to the rim for the layup and a foul. When he made that free throw App State suddenly had a two-possession 72-68 lead with 0:45 left in regulation.
The Mountaineers closed the win out from the free-throw line from there.
This was Appalachian’s third game in the past seven where they’d scored at least 75, all wins.
APP STATE DEFENSE
When App State lost to Coastal earlier in the season they allowed four double-figure scorers and the Chanticleers got 22 points from their bench players. This time around, only two players got to double figures and bench scoring was held to 13.
The Mountaineers owned the boards, outrebounding Coastal 50-35 overall (plus-five on offensive rebounds and plus-seven on second-chance points).
Appalachian held Coastal to their lowest shooting percentage (.404) in their past six games and their lowest scoring output in the past five.
Understandably, Kelvin Robinson had come back from a month-long absence due to injury and was struggling with his shot (28.5% FG in three games since returning), but he was highly productive in just 14 minutes against Coastal. Robinson had 10 points, including the key score noted earlier, on 3-4 shooting. Isaac Johnson played just 18 minutes, but still generated five points and seven rebounds. Pat Good was held scoreless again (3rd time in five games) and Appalachian is missing his production.
Despite a modest stat line (two points, three rebounds, two assists) Craig Hinton played a productive 20 minutes, more so on the defensive end when stats don’t show up as readily.
For the first time, now in their third Sun Belt season, App State will travel to New Orleans for the league’s championship tournament.
First, Appalachian comes in with a win under their belt. You want some sort of positive momentum coming into a postseason tournament.
Next, the Mountaineers will face Troy, who beat App State 76-66 just about two weeks ago. This was a game where Troy shot 27 free throws and Appalachian shot nine. If you watched the game you know there shouldn’t have been that kind of discrepancy. But, that’s Sun Belt officiating for you.
Finally, Troy packed their defense back into the paint, especially after Kinney scored nine first-half points, and forced Appalachian into 30 three-point attempts. The Mountaineers haven’t shot as well as 30% from the three-point line in four games (including against Coastal), so either he shots have to start dropping or the offense has to force the ball closer to the rim.
Also, this would be a great time for a wild-card offensive player (like Pat Good) to come out with an explosive scoring performance. Good is averaging just over two points per game on 18% shooting over the past five games, but prior to that he was shooting 45% from the floor and has shown his ability to get hot and change the offensive complexion of a game.
App State will face Troy at 8:30 PM EST on Wednesday, March 8th.
POSTGAME PRESS CONFERENCE
HEAD COACH JIM FOX
JAKE BABIC, RONSHAD SHABAZZ, MATT O'BOYLE & GRIFFIN KINNEY