By David Coulson. February 17, 2018. BOONE, NC — For the struggling Appalachian State offense, a 13-0 run to start its Sun Belt Conference men’s basketball game was the perfect way to regain some much needed confidence.
COVER IMAGE: Freshman guard Justin Forrest splits the uprights en route to the basket. Photographic image by Bill Barbour for Blowing Rock News
And in the two hours that followed before 2,407 fans at the Holmes Convocation Center, the Mountaineers used that cushion to hold off Troy for a key, 65-54 victory.
Ronshad Shabazz, coming off a 3-for-14 shooting performance in Thursday’s 77-66 home loss to South Alabama, fired in two three-pointers in the first 76 seconds of play to jump start the ASU attack on the way to a team-high 15 points and the Mountaineer defense limited the talented Troy offense to 28% shooting the rest of the way.
With former North Carolina star Antawn Jamison seated at the end of the courtside scorer’s table to scout Troy’s all-time leading scorer Wesley Person and forward Jordon Varnado for the Los Angeles Lakers, Appalachian (12-16 overall, 7-8 in conference) clamped down on the Trojans and never let the road-weary visitors get comfortable.
Varnado scored a game-high 30 points and added 11 rebounds to keep things from getting totally out of hand, but App State limited Person to 1-of-9 shooting from the field and only nine points.
It took Troy (13-14, 7-7) over four minutes to score its first points and the Trojans missed 11 consecutive shots to start the second half during a 9:31 stretch where the Mountaineers expanded their 34-27 halftime advantage to 20 points at 51-31.
Varnado kept fighting along and gave Appalachian some edgy moments down the stretch when his final trey of the afternoon cut the lead under double digits at 60-52 with 1:26 remaining. Darian Adams scored off a lay-in at the 43-second mark to make it 61-54 as Troy held out hope, but freshman guards O’Showen Williams and Justin Forrest (10 points) iced the game with four straight free throws.
“We never let them get comfortable,” said App State coach Jim Fox. “We beat a team that won the conference championship last year.”
Griffin Kinney continued his effective post play with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The victory, combined with Texas State’s 79-71 road loss to Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday, puts the Mountaineers in a tie for the eighth-best record in the conference, but ASU holds a tiebreaker over TSU by virtue of a season sweep of the Bobcats.
The top eight teams in the conference advance to next month’s Sun Belt tournament.
Appalachian also carries one of the more favorable closing schedules in the league, with road games next week at the two worst teams in the conference Arkansas State and Arkansas-Little Rock and one final home on March 3 against Coastal Carolina, which the Mountaineers have already beaten once.