"I did touch it!" insisted Augustus. Given how smartly State's senior got out on Sims and forced him to fire just a bit quicker than planned, even if he hadn't touched leather Augustus deserved applause. Sims, after all, had thrown in seven three-point goals already and was up to 40 points, so no one on MSU's side was willing to risk him missing on his own accord.
So out came Augustus on a perfectly-executed defensive switch that put a 6-8 forward in the 6-1 guard's line of sight. "I knew he was going to try to go for the three, he was shooting threes all game. I timed it well and tipped it. He kind of faked it at the end and stumbled a little bit. But great game, great game!"
A good Bulldog win, too, and a much-improved performance from last Friday's ten-point outcome against Tennessee State. "It's easy to be proud of a team when you win, but I'm most proud of some progress we made in some areas from last week," Coach Rick Stansbury said.
Most obviously on defense. ASU might have got their points, most obviously from Sims as he was a make away from setting an opponent's scoring record in Humphrey Coliseum. But the Bulldogs were able to minimize most other damage with 37% field goal defense, and Sims still had to chunk it up 31 times out of his team's 67 total shots.
What mattered was limiting ASU guard Omar Carter to five points on 2-of-10 shooting, since he'd averaged 27.5 in the first two games. Bulldog wingman Ravern Johnson, not noted his first three season for defense, did a number on Carter. "That was huge," Stansbury said. At times even Sims was well-covered, and had guard Riley Benock not worn down on a sore hip and knee he could have been at least a little more contained in the last half.
Yet it was in the final two minutes, not just the final series, where Dog defense came to the fore. Trailing 73-64, State was able to force four absolutely decisive turnovers and keep any Mountaineer, Sims included, from making a basket of any sort.
"We found a way to scramble around at the end and get some turnovers," said Stansbury. And scramble it was with loose balls on ASU's offensive end converted into the winning points. None of which would have mattered if Augustus had not gotten in Sims' way at the very end just as State schemed it up.
"We were going to switch off screens with Kodi at the five. Sims does a great job shot-faking and jumping into you, that's the last thing you want to do. Kodi jump-switched and stayed away and contested it." And, yes, tipped it the right way.
Which made the evening that much better for Augustus as he put up his second double-double this senior year, with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Johnson provided 19 points, and both of them had a trio of treys.
"Give Appalachian State a lot of credit, they've got a terrific team," Stansbury said. "Sims is about as good a little guard as you're going to play against. What a night, 40 points. We had no answer for him. All we could do was hope he missed some shots." Or, block them.
Ironically the Mountaineers could hardly have begun worse, missing their first five shots and two free throws around a couple of turnovers. State didn't push their advantage enough and a 5-0 lead lasted only until ASU started hitting. Nathan Healey, mostly, with a jumper, layup, and trey in short order. He scored nine of his team's first 11 points with a tied score at 14:00.
Augustus had opened MSU's evening with a three of his own, and followed with two more longballs. When ASU swung to that side it left Benock open on the other for a trey. Consecutive Johnson threefers expanded the margin to 30-19 by six minutes, while the Mountaineers missed all but one of their first nine trey-tries. They also failed to get a few tips to roll the right way, negating some aggressive boardwork.
Sims finally ended the outside drought, and threw in three more from increasing distances to stave off a first-half blowout. ASU wasn't getting closer than six points before the break and State closed stronger for a 43-32 intermission margin.
And the Dogs promptly saw seven points chopped from that lead to begin the last half, with Petey Haulsey getting consecutive goals. By 14:25 the Mountaineers were within a bucket…and Sims got it, a trey in fact for a 50-49 lead. He also converted a MSU turnover under one goal into a layup and foul at the other to make it 56-53 at 11:20.
Fortunately the Mountaineers couldn't keep this pace up, not even Sims, with three-straight long misses as State mixed in a little zone defense with man-coverage in transition. But the Dogs were offensively frigid, going without a bucket for six series until Johnson stuck a transition trey for a 61-59 State advantage at eight minutes.
ASU's Healey had four free chances to catch up and missed three, but a turnover and runout by Jeremi Booth changed the lead. At the 4:00 mark Sims hit free throws for a 68-62 Dog deficit. It was a four-point difference a minute later with State in zone and Sims missing from out top. But the carom came to Booth and given another chance Sims hit an even longer bomb at 2:48. Two more freebies kept it at seven points going inside two minutes, sending some of the crowd toward exits. They would miss the real fun.
Because the Bulldogs weren't done, with inbounds pressure producing consecutive turnovers, a Benock jumper and Augustus free shots. After Sims missed at the stripe guard Brian Bryant was fouled behind the arc at 1:14. He made all three chances. "That was huge," Stansbury said. Sims missed outside but State's Steele was knocked off-balance on the rebound and only a travel called at 40.4 seconds.
The incensed crowd needn't have worried because it was no-calls anywhere after that, which played to State's advantage as they came hard after Mountaineer guards until Sims lost the handle. "Coach had told us to move up and pressure the ball, Sims drove and kind of got shoved around," Augustus admitted. "He'd been making threes so we tried to give him a different look."
A couple of deflections resulted in Steele running away with a layup for the lead. Sims wasn't going to be allowed an outside look and drove the lane only to throw it away, with Johnson recovering for a foul and one free shot made with less than four seconds remaining for Sims to try one more time. "He had 40, but he didn't beat us!" said Augustus. "We played good D at the end."
"We should have never got in that situation," Sims said. "It was crazy and we kept piling up the mistakes." Some of those came against State's end-game pressure, but others when Stansbury switched at times to the 2-3 zone. "That was just trying to plug a hole because he was killing us," the coach said. "And it changed tempo some."
Enough so that the Bulldogs could outlast the Mountaineers…literally in the sense that four visitors fouled out, including two starters. Had State made a little better use of the foul line than 18-of-29 the win might have come easier. But then, this might work out well in the longer run, Augustus thought.
"It's huge because a lot of guys are getting great, quality experience that will be crucial at the end of the season."
"We survived," summarized Stansbury. "We survived the game." A game where State got little from the post players, he added. And where the Dogs did not turn up the real defense until almost too late. "Now we have to figure out ways to play two halves," he said.
But, "You can coach from a win. It's going to be this way for this team throughout."
Stansbury doesn't have much time for coaching before the Bulldogs host Detroit on Monday night. He noted that the Titans maybe have lost their first two games but led Syracuse by five and fell to top-25 ranked New Mexico. Plus, he expects Detroit to throw some zone looks at State which they have not had a real chance to pre-season prepare for.
State is offering a special $5 ticket for walk-up sale only to Monday's game.