By David Coulson. January 27, 2018. BOONE, NC — The question following the 93-88 Sun Belt conference men’s basketball loss by Appalachian State against Arkansas State Saturday afternoon at the Holmes Convocation Center was the Mountaineers’ recovery from a 29-point, second-half deficit a moral victory, or was it simply another devastating defeat?
Mountaineer players and coach Jim Fox were quick to brush aside the morale boost of the late rally and focused instead on the lingering aspects of their terrible play for three quarters of the game as App State fell to 9-14 overall and 4-6 in the Sun Belt Conference — despite a game-high 27 points from the resurgent Ronshad Shazbazz.
“I’m obviously very disappointed in the way we played,” said Fox. “We got our butt kicked. It was not a good day today.”
Guard Devan Simms led the way for the Red Wolves (8-14, 3-6) with 23 points and hit four key free throws down the stretch as Arkansas State withstood the Mountaineers’ late comeback. Guard Ty Cockfield added 20 points and also was perfect on his late trips to the charity stripe.
Joining Simms and Cockfield in double figures were Marquis Eaton with 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting and Grantham Gillard off the bench with 16. Eaton added a game-high six assists to his sterling day.
Arkansas State got off to a blazing start, hitting 58% from the field (21-of-36) and 78% from three-point range (7-of-9) in the first half to lead by 24 points at 56-32. Appalachian contributed to that success with poor play on defense, a lack of offensive execution and lukewarm hustle and intensity.
“We have to come out every game and attack every game,” said Shabazz, who was coming off a five-game stretch where he had shot just 25% from the field. “We came out on our heels.”
Salif Boudie’s conventional three-point play with 16:09 remaining gave the Red Wolves a 29-point, 65-36 lead and that advantage was still 24 points at 75-51 when Tamas Bruce slammed in a dunk at the 9:42 mark of the second half.
But Appalachian went on a 30-11 run, fueled largely by Shabazz’s 17 points and highlight-reel play over the next nine minutes to pull within five points at 86-81 with 42 seconds left.
“I thought our guys, looking at the scoreboard, got complacent in the second half,” Red Wolves coach Mike Balado said. “Big props to Ronshad Shabazz. He’s one of the best players in the league.”
With the announced crowd of 1,805 roaring its approval, the Mountaineers made it a two-possession game four times in the final minute and a half, but couldn’t get the defensive stops, or missed free throws they needed to cut further into the lead.
Arkansas State hit 5-of-6 free throws during the final 90 seconds and finished 21-of-27 from the line for the game (78%). Appalachian killed its chances by hitting just 12-of-24 foul shots (50%).
The Mountaineers managed to get five players in double figures for scoring, with Justin Forest chipping in 15, Tyrell Johnson contributing 14, O’Showen Williams tallying 11 and Isaac Johnson putting in 10 to go with his game-high 12 rebounds.
Appalachian, which missed a chance to improve to .500 in league play, now enters a crucial three-game road stretch in the next two weeks, with a game Thursday at 8:15 p.m. at UT-Arlington, and a Saturday afternoon encounter with Texas State. The following week, the Mountaineers head to Coastal Carolina on Feb. 10.