By David Coulson. March 7, 2019. BOONE, NC — Appalachian State didn’t need to paint a masterpiece on Thursday night in its Sun Belt Conference men’s basketball contest against struggling, last-place Troy. And it didn’t.
COVER IMAGE: Tyrell Johnson slams the ball home for Appalachian against Troy. Photographic image by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News. Story edited by David Rogers.
BOX SCORE & SLIDESHOWS @ bottom of this story
A pop-art, yard-sale work probably best described the Mountaineers’ performance better on the Holmes Convocation Center court as they took a 72-64 victory over the injury-depleted Trojans and, in the process, likely punched their ticket to the conference tournament next week with an all but guaranteed 10th seed.
Tyrell Johnson was an offensive force off the bench with 16 points in 24 minutes of court time to ignite Appalachian. It was another tepid start for the Mountaineers (11-19 overall, 6-11 in the SBC), but by end they kept their postseason destiny in their own hands heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale at home against South Alabama.
Even if the 10th-place Mountaineers fall to the Jaguars and 11th-place Arkansas-Little Rock (5-12, 10-20) beats Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday, App State holds the tiebreaker over UALR by virtue of its 77-73 road win over those Trojans on Jan. 26. On Thursday, Little Rock blew a second-half lead against Louisiana-Lafayette to lose, 77-72.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game of all,” said App State coach Jim Fox, a master of understatement. “We had absolutely no energy. We have to find a way to get more energy.”
Even with the importance of the contest and the crowd announced as 572, there were probably under 200 fans on hand, with Appalachian students still on spring break. Hopefully, there will be more on hand to celebrate Saturday’s Senior Day for the men’s basketball program.
The Mountaineers got a huge break even before the tip-off Thursday when Troy’s Jordon Varnardo — arguably the most talented athlete in the Sun Belt and always a thorn in App State’s flesh — didn’t make the trip as he missed his eighth consecutive game with injuries and a suspension for violating team rules.
Trojan post player Alex Hicks created matchup problems for Appalachian early with eight early points, six rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot, but he was held scoreless in the second half and grabbed just five more boards as Tyrell Johnson excelled in the paint, despite playing limited minutes (24) with an undisclosed illness.
Appalachian continued its trend of slow starts, struggling with shot selection before going on a 15-5 run over the last four minutes of the opening half. Ronshad Shabazz, last week’s Sun Belt player of the week with 67 points in two games, started that burst with a pair of free throws before Tyrell Johnson hit a jumper and threw down a thunderous dunk. Sophomore guard Justin Forrest also brought energy before intermission with three consecutive 3-pointers with under eight minutes to play.
“I didn’t think we took good shots at the beginning of the game,” Fox said.
“We would have ridden (Tyrell Johnson) more, if we could have,” Fox said.
Forrest added 15 points for Appalachian, with Isaac Johnson chipping in 11 points and seven rebounds. Javan Johnson led all scorers with 17 for Troy (11-18, 4-13), while BJ Miller added 14 and Darian Adams contributed 12 for the Trojans.
With the postseason secured, Fox’s biggest concern for Saturday is figuring out how to utilize seven seniors on Senior Day against South Alabama.
Shabazz, Tyrell Johnson, Trey Ford, Bennett Holley, Nick Hough, Kevin Kerley and Jake Wilson will all be playing their final home game for the Black and Gold.
“That will drive me nuts tonight,” Fox admitted.