By David Rogers. December 2, 2017. BOONE, NC — Just looking at the early season resumes, South Florida may have figured to give Appalachian State men’s basketball team fits Saturday night at the Holmes Convocation Center. They didn’t — because behind an attacking offense that resulted in balanced scoring and tenacious defense, the Mountaineers tamed the Bulls, 84-61, in front of an announced crowd of 1,506.
COVER IMAGE: Tyrell Johnson (32) puts an exclamation point on the App State win with a thunderous dunk in the second half. Photographic image by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
South Florida (now 4-5 on the season) came into the game with wins over frequent “March Madness” entries from their respective NCAA Division I conferences: Arkansas State (Sun Belt Conference), Florida Atlantic (Conference-USA), Howard (Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) and Stetson (Atlantic Sun Conference).
App State (5-4) entered Saturday night’s contest with decisive wins over Division III Bridgewater College and strong Division I contenders Texas-El Paso and Davidson, as well as competitive losses to Iowa State, Western Michigan, James Madison, and Virginia Commonwealth.
If the Mountaineers continue to play the entertaining brand of basketball they have displayed of late at the Holmes Center, bigger crowds are sure to come because this App State team is for real.
Junior guard Ronshad Shabazz improved his average points per game with 50% shooting from the field, 9-of-18, burning the nets for a game-high total of 21 points, while tying for game-high honors in assists (5) and steals (2).
Guard Justin Forrest has emerged as the Mountaineers freshman sensation so far in this young season, earning a spot in the starting lineup. He was only 5-of 12 from the field Saturday night, but 3-of-6 from behind the three-point arc and a perfect 6-for-6 from the charity stripe, accounting for 19 points and also tying for game-high honors in assists (5) and steals (2).
App State held a 38-22 advantage inside the paint and forward Tyrell Johnson’s performance explained a good part of that differential. The 6-8 junior was 6-of-8 from the field, including a three-pointer to tally 13 points on the night. He pulled down only three rebounds, but they were all big ones because they cleaned up missed shots on the offensive end of the court.
Sophomore forward Isaac Johnson came close to a double-double, with 10 rebounds to go with seven points scored. All but one of his boards came on the defensive end, a major role in the team’s overall pugnacious defensive scheme.
South Florida’s 6-6 graduate transfer wing/forward Payton Banks, from Orange, California by way of Penn State, put the Bulls ahead 3-0 at the start of the game with a moon shot from behind the arc, but after Bulls guard Stephan Jiggetts (6-1, 195 lbs., Forrestville, MD/transfer from Farleigh Dickinson) hit a short jumper to put USF ahead, 5-2, the night belonged to Appalachian State. Forrest hit a pair of free throws with not even four minutes gone in the first half and the Mountaineers took control. Halftime found the High Country’s favorite sons ahead by 11 points (44-33). By the end, they had doubled the final margin, to 23 points ahead.
Physically, the Bulls were an imposing opponent and several of the athletes are transfer students from other strong Division I programs.
In addition to Banks, at 7-2, 250 lbs., junior center Nikola Skecic (Belgrade, Serbia/Hutchinson (KS) Community College) is an imposing presence in any arena. Malik Martin (6-11, 214 lbs.) is a redshirt junior from Miami, FL, but spent his freshman and sophomore campaigns as a University of Southern California Trojan, sitting out last season as required by transfer rules.
Isaiah Manderson is a 6-10, 245 lb. forward listing The Bronx, NY as his hometown, but he played three years of high school ball in Atlanta suburb, Milton, GA, and a fourth year at Oldsmar Christian in Florida. In 2013 he was rated the 18th best player coming out of the state of Florida when he committed and enrolled at Texas Tech University, where he played his freshman and sophomore seasons.
The Bulls’ physicality proved a good test for the Mountaineers. Martin recorded a game-high 11 rebounds, four of them on the offensive end, while Manderson was credited with five rebounds. Martin added nine points scored in 31 minutes of court time, Manderson dropped in 14 points and Jiggetts poured in a team-high 17 points.
Appalachian goes on a grueling road trip to end the calendar year, beginning with next Monday’s journey to Cullowhee where they face former SoCon nemesis, Western Carolina (7:00 pm, ESPN3). Then they go north for a December 9th matchup at Akron (2:00 pm).
The Mountaineers stay in Ohio for what may well prove the sternest test of the early season, visiting Ohio State on December 16 (6:00 pm). They close out the road trip at Hampton (VA) on December 20 (7:00 pm), before returning to the Holmes Center on December 29 when they open Sun Bet Conference play by hosting Texas State (7:30 pm).
SLIDESHOW by Bill Barbour for Blowing Rock News
SLIDESHOW by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News