By David Rogers. January 25, 2018. BOONE, NC — Those guys in Las Vegas are REALLY smart. Before Thursday evening’s Holmes Center matchup between Appalachian State men’s basketball and visiting Arkansas-Little Rock, the consensus among six Las Vegas betting lines favored Appalachian by five points. The outliers among the group were giving Little Rock five and a half points (in other words, the Mountaineers were favored by 5.5). After 40 minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime play, da Vegas bookies were right on the money as App State rallied from a 13-point deficit midway through the first half to prevail in overtime, 72-67 — or Appalachian by five.
COVER IMAGE: Freshman guard Justin Forrest slips underneath Trojan defenders for reverse layup in the second half. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
“Anyone looking for an offensive game tonight found this game offensive,” quipped Mountaineer head coach Jim Fox afterwards.
He may be the master of understatement, because it was as physical of a defensive battle on both ends of the court as any defensive-minded fan might want.
Coming into Thursday night’s contest, Appalachian’s two top scorers were junior guard Ronshad Shabazz, averaging 19.1 points per game, and freshman guard Justin Forrest, averaging 14.3 points per game. In the first half, that dynamic duo of offensive stars were limited to just four and three points, respectively.
“Obviously, our offense is not clicking,” admitted Fox in opening his post-game press conference. “For whatever reason, we are just not able to carry it over from practice to the games right now. But when you can make stops when you need to (that’s a good thing).
“It wasn’t pretty (tonight),” he added. “The last three games have been lost in the last possession, so we deserved a little bit to fall our way.”
Acknowledging that Shabazz and Forrest were not their usual selves, Fox was quick to offer plaudits for the Mountaineers who were able to step in with significant contributions.
“O’Showen (Williams) was sensational. He played a ton,” Fox said of his sophomore guard who came off the bench to tally a team-high 13 points. “Craig (Hinton) made the big shot (a three pointer with 53 seconds left in overtime to put the Mountaineers ahead, 68-65). Tyrell (Johnson) was sick as anything and couldn’t get up and down the court, but he made that big block at the end. Then Griff (Kinney) and Isaac (Johnson) did just an unbelievable job on the glass.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Fox said to conclude his opening press conference statement. “We needed this one. Now we need to keep going and get a big one on Saturday to get back in the race.”
Asked by a reporter about Shabazz and Forrest having off nights and whether he was concerned about it at any time, Kinney told reporters, “No. Not at all. We have a lot of depth. We have other guys who can score.”
Led by 6-11 senior forward Wadly Mompremier’s game-high 16 points (10 in the first half) coming off the bench, the Trojans appeared to have the upper hand for much of the game, leading by as many as 13 with still 6:36 to play in the initial period. Little Rock’s leading scorer, guard Andre Jones, finished the game with 15 points (higher than his season average of 12.1 points), but 10 of those were in the first half.
Speaking to the halftime adjustments that helped the Mountaineers get back into the game and rally from the deficit, Fox said, “Well, we played zone. I thought it took them a little bit out of their rhythm. Not that we are a great zone team, but I thought they were getting to the rim on us. So we went zone and it just makes (your opponent) take different shots. And when you take different shots, sometimes that rhythm gets screwed up a little bit. They’ve got some great players on that side, but I thought our zone was a big adjustment.
“We also kept changing our ball screen defense,” the fourth year Mountaineer head mentor added. “That was a big adjustment. And (assistant coach) Manny Robinson did a sensational job in preparing us for these guys. Because of that, we made the right plays.”
Kinney recorded a double-double on the night, collecting 12 rebounds to go with his 10 points scored. Sophomore forward Isaac Johnson cleaned the boards for 11 rebounds, while accounting for seven points.
Also coming off the bench, redshirt senior forward Hinton was impressive with seven rebounds, six points, and three big blocks of Trojan shots.
With the win, Appalachian State improves to 4-5 in conference play (good enough for a tie for 6th with Texas-Arlington) and 9-13 overall. Next the Mountaineers host Arkansas State on Saturday at the Holmes Center, with tipoff scheduled for 3:30 pm. The Red Wolves are 2-6 in conference play, 7-14 overall.
SLIDESHOW By David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
BOX SCORE (click to enlarge)