By David Rogers. February 17, 2018. BOONE, NC — Coming out of the gate at the Holmes Center with a baker’s dozen of points before their opponents even had their shoelaces fully tied, Appalachian State men’s basketball led start to finish on Saturday before an announced crowd of 2,407 — the largest of the season — in surprising Troy University, 65-54.
COVER IMAGE: Ronshad Shabazz attacks the basket for App State. Photographic image by Bill Barbour for Blowing Rock News.
Former University of North Carolina and NBA star Antawn Jamison was courtside, representing the Los Angeles Lakers as a scout reportedly taking a closer look at Troy’s Jordan Varnado. The 6-6 junior forward from Brownsville, TN hardly disappointed, torching the nets for 30 points and cleaning the backboards for 13 rebounds, both game highs.
But the story this night was all about Appalachian’s full team effort that not only put on display the many facets of potential that have rarely all come together for a complete game this season, as well as their determination to finish, to not let victory slip from their grasp.
It was a night where the Mountaineer trio of frontline backcourt players, junior Ronshad Shabazz, freshman Justin Forrest, and sophomore O’Showen Williams were hitting on all cylinders, while forwards Griff Kinney, Isaac Johnson, and Terrell Johnson were top performers inside.
Afterward, Mountaineer head coach Jim Fox was effusive in praise for his team’s defensive performance, acknowledging that really good players like Varnado and Trojan teammate Wesley Person are often going to have big nights even if well-defended.
Person came into the game ranked sixth in the Sun Belt in scoring, averaging almost 19 points per game. On Saturday, the Mountaineers held him to just half that, at nine points. The senior Trojan was averaging more than three goals from behind the arc per game, leading the conference in number of field goals made and second in 3-point field goal percentage. Against the Mountaineers at the Holmes Center, Person was 1-for-9 from behind the arc.
“We made (Varnado) work for everything he got,” Fox observed to reporters in his post-game remarks. “Tyrell (Johnson), Craig (Hinton) and O’Showen (Williams) really made life difficult for Person.”
The Mountaineers’ 13-0 run to start the game was as big as their advantage got in the first half. Led by Varnado, the Trojans chipped away at the deficit, only to see one or another of the App State players force a turnover or hit a big shot. The visitors did cut the margin in half, to seven points, by halftime.
But Appalachian wasted little time in re-asserting themselves after intermission. With Troy missing shots inside and out, Shabazz, Kinney, Forrest and Isaac Johnson were connecting for the Mountaineers on the other end. When redshirt sophomore Hunter Seacat laid the ball up and in to make the score 49-29 with 13:13 left to play, folks around the arena were gaining confidence that they were witnessing a victory by their favorite sons. At the 9:33 mark, Shabazz hit a short jumper to expand the deficit to 22, and signs of Mountaineer pride were busting out all over.
The remainder of the game was not without some anxious moments, however. By the 2:37, Varnado, Person & Co. had whittled the lead down to just 10 points and when the Trojans’ Darian Adams found the lane for a layup that shrank the deficit to just seven points with 43 seconds remaining — a seeming eternity in men’s basketball — nervous nellies among the Mountaineer faithful could be heard praying, “Oh, please don’t let them blow this lead.”
They didn’t. Free throws by Williams and Forrest provided some extra margin in the closing seconds.
Now 7-8 in Sun Belt play and 12-16 overall, Appalachian State is in the middle of an 8-team standings pile-up from 3rd through 10th places. With three remaining regular season games and all against lower ranked teams, the Mountaineers have a better than average chance of finishing the season above .500. Next week they play Arkansas State (4-10, 9-18) on Thursday and Arkansas-Little Rock (3-11, 6-21) on Saturday before finishing the regular season at home on March 3rd in hosting Coastal Carolina.
- 30 – Jordon Varnado, Troy
- 15 – Ronshad Shabazz, App State
- 12 – Griffin Kinney, App State
- 10 – Justin Forrest, App State
- 13 – Jordon Varnado, Troy
- 11 – Isaac Johnson, App State
- 3 – Ronshad Shabazz, App State
- 3 – B.J. Miller, Troy
- 3 – Justin Forrest, App State
- 2 – Tyrell Johnson, App State
- 1 – Jordon Varnado, Troy
- 1 – Griff Kinney, App State
- 2 – Justin Forrest, App State
- 2 – B.J. Miller, Troy
- 1 – Alex Hicks, Troy
- 1 – Davis Davis, Jr., Troy
- 1 – Malik Burnett, Troy
- 1 – Tyrell Johnson, App State
- 1 – Ronshad Shabazz, App State
- 1 – O’Showen Williams, App State
- 3-7 – Ronshad Shabazz, App State
- 3-8 – Jordon Varnado, Troy