By David Rogers. November 16, 2017. MYRTLE BEACH, SC — A pair of Appalachian State back court stars (Ronshad Shabazz and Justin Forrest) tied for game-high honors in points scored at 32 apiece Thursday night against Big 12 Conference power Iowa State in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, but it wasn’t enough as a late Mountaineer rally from an 18-point deficit fell short in losing to the Cyclones, 104-98.
Appalachian was down by a dozen with just 55 seconds remaining, but the Mountaineers played the last minute as if they were playing for the Sun Belt Conference championship, or even in NCAA’s “March Madness.”
Neither the players nor the coaches quit until the final buzzer sounded. Appalachian head coach Jim Fox was subbing stronger defensive (i.e. Tyrell Johnson and Griffin Kinney) and offensive (i.e. Bennett Holley and Zach Cottrell) specialists in and out of the on-the-court roster with every change in possession, and it worked. On the strength of three-pointers from Forrest and Holley, as well as Shabazz driving to the basket to draw opportunities at the charity stripe and good team defense against the Cyclones, the Mountaineers narrowed the deficit to just six at the end.
To have traded first half leads, stayed close, and rallied to finish both halves against the Cyclones speaks volumes about the progress Fox and his staff have made in turning around the Appalachian State program. Iowa State has a rich basketball history that includes making the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship in 18 of the last 33 years — including six consecutive appearances from 2012 through last March’s tournament. In the 2017 tournament, the Cyclones defeated University of Nevada 84-73 in the Midwest Regional hosted in Milwaukee, WI, before being edged by a strong Purdue five in the second round, 80-76.
On Thursday, Appalachian State and Iowa State traded the lead nine times (and the Mountaineers tied the game five times) in the first half alone before the Cyclones seemingly took command with a minute left before intermission and a 7-point lead. But a 3-pointer by Shabazz with just over a half-minute remaining to finish first half scoring reminded Iowa State that the Mountaineers would not go away quietly.
Shabazz scored 21 points in the first half — more than half of it from long range in going 4-of-8 from behind the three-point arc — then knocked down a “three” to open scoring in the second half and narrow the gap to just one point. Less than two minutes into the final stanza, sophomore forward Isaac Johnson tied the game at 49-49 with a foul shot, but then Iowa State went on a 12-5 run that put the Cyclones ahead to stay.
ISU senior guard Donovan Jackson poured in a team-high 26 points and redshirt junior guard Nick Weiler-Babb added 23 to lead the Cyclones in scoring, but the 703 in attendance at Conway, SC’s HTC Center saw Iowa State play a stronger inside game, outscoring the Mountaineers 30-20 inside the paint. Overall, the Cyclones out-rebounded App State, 44-38, led by 6-9 redshirt freshman Cameron Lard’s 11 boards.
While the Mountaineers may have been hampered by having three players in foul trouble (Kinney and O’Showen Williams fouled out and Forrest finished with four personal fouls), Fox and his staff had to have been heartened by the contributions from their bench. In addition to Forrest’s 32 points, Holley added nine and senior guard Craig Hinton put up seven to lead the Appalachian State reserves to a 53-23 advantage over the Cyclones’ bench players.
Appalachian will face Mid-American Conference power Western Michigan in the Tip-Off’s second round. The Broncos lost to Tulsa on Thursday, 84-71, but got 19 points from senior guard Thomas Wilder. Wilder was a First Team All-Mid-American Conference selection for the 2016-17 campaign and named Second Team All-District by the National Association of Basketball Coaches while also given the nod as the Broncos’ team MVP. A year ago he scored in double figures in 31 of 32 contests, averaged 19.3 points per game, dished out 121 assists, and poached 42 steals.
Inside, WMU is led by a seven-footer in junior forward Seth Dugan, who cleaned the boards for seven rebounds against Tulsa and recorded two blocked shots.
Tipoff for the App State-Western Michigan match-up is scheduled for 5:00 pm Eastern Standard Time. It will be broadcast live on ESPNU, the IMG