By Taylor Welsh. November 17, 2017. CONWAY, S.C. — It seems like whenever Appalachian State faces an opponent from Michigan, regardless the university or sport, the Mountaineers entertain a sense of hope that an upset is on the horizon. And in the beginning of Appalachian State’s consolation match-up with Western Michigan in the relocated Puerto Rico Tip-Off, it looked like another App State upset was brewing.
But in a flash, Appalachian State fell 86-67 to Western Michigan after trying to play through several scoreless runs in the second half.
The teams headed into halftime deadlocked at 40-40, thanks largely to multiple stretches of dominate team defense that seemed to keep the Broncos right where they wanted them. However, coming out of intermission Western Michigan looked every bit like the team originally picked to win the Mid-American Conference (MAC) West Division and possibly the MAC championship.
Western Michigan’s Bryce Moore quickly flipped the script on Appalachian State, breaking the tie in the first minute of the second stanza with a 3-pointer that started a Broncos 15-0 run. On the other end of the court, the Mountaineers missed their first seven shots of the half.
“We were kind of in cement to start [the second half],” App State coach Jim Fox said after the game. “We get a stop, but then we turn the ball over. We get another stop, but then we give up a rebound. It kind of just spiraled from there. We just couldn’t get back over the hump.”
But time and time again, the Mountaineers’ well-coached team showed a glimpse of grit and within minutes narrowed the deficit to 68-61 on a Ronshad Shabazz layup with six minutes remaining. But unfortunately, that was as close as the Mountaineers would get to the Broncos in the second half.
After Shabazz created a spark for the black and gold, the Broncos reeled off another long run, outscoring Appalachian State 11-0 in the final minutes of the game, led by Western Michigan’s 2016-17 season MVP Thomas Wilder. The 6-3 senior guard from Montgomery, Illinois scored the initial six points of the run to ice the contest.
- Coming into the game, Appalachian State looked like the better team on paper, scoring an average of 30 more points per game (109.3) than Western Michigan (79), allowing 12 less points scored against them and ousting the Broncos in every category, including rebounds per game (56), assists per game (21), blocks per game (6) and steals per game (11.3).
- However, Appalachian State’s 16 turnovers—compared to Western Michigan’s eight—was a deciding factor in the Mountaineers’ loss.
- Quickly, the Mountaineers’ large rebounding margin from the initial trio of games against lower-level opponents (Warren Wilson, Toccoa Falls and Bridgewater) this season dwindled against Iowa State in the tourney’s first round and vs. Western Michigan’s 7-footers inside the paint. And the team’s respectable shooting percentage, 49.5 percent, also took a hit Friday night as the Mountaineers shot 37.5 percent from the field.
BRONCOS GAME PLAN BUCKS THE MOUNTAINEERS
Western Michigan head coach Steve Fowler observed to reporters after the game, “We placed a heavy emphasis on the first four minutes of the second half. Having said that, the only real adjustment we talked about was with Shabazz and Forrest. They were scoring well for them. Both of those kids like to work in space. They do a lot of jab-step stuff and step back and let it go from three.”
Shabazz and Forrest combined for 64 points (each recording 32 points) against Big 12 power conference Iowa State Cyclones in the tournament’s first round on Thursday, but on Friday night the Broncos limited the high-scoring duo to a combined 12 points in the second half (38 combined for the whole game).
Despite Western Michigan’s success of taking away the 3-pointer, forcing the Mountaineers to hit only 3-of-14 attempts from beyond the arc in the second half, Appalachian State’s Shabazz finished with 25 points in the loss, establishing an early season streak of four consecutive games of 20 points or more.
Appalachian State looks to turn things around in the 11:30 a.m., 7th place game against Texas-El Paso (UTEP) on Sunday.
“We need to stop pointing fingers,” Shabazz told reporters after the game. “It’s not anybody in the crowd. It’s not moms; it’s not dads. It’s us. We’ve got to look at each other and we’ve got to handle business.”
Appalachian State had four players in double-digits for scoring Friday night vs. WMU: Shabazz (25), Forrest (13), Isaac Johnson (12) and Griffin Kinney (10).
Johnson also finished the night leading the Mountaineers with nine rebounds.