By David Rogers. January 4, 2020. BOONE, NC — As buzzer-beating, come-from-behind thrillers go, it doesn’t get much better than Saturday evening’s 74-72 Appalachian State men’s basketball win over Georgia Southern.
COVER IMAGE: Justin Forrest (1) brings the ball downcourt for App State in the second half. Photographic image by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
With the last seconds ticking off the clock and the Mountaineers trailing 72-71, a raucous crowd of 1,640 in the Holmes Center saw junior guard Justin Forrest collect the ball at the top of the 3-point arc and launch what would prove a history-making shot. Nothing but net.
It was only fitting that the game’s leading scorer (Forrest, with 25) would hit the shot that is still reverberating around the High Country’s basketball world. After receiving the ball from backcourt mate O’Showen Williams, Forrest calmly sized up the basket just as he had done thousands of times before in practice and secured the Mountaineers’ improbable Sun Belt Conference win — with 0.9 seconds remaining in the game. Credit Williams with an assist for penetrating down the right side and across the top of the key to draw a crowd, then whip a pass over to his awaiting teammate. Upon receiving the pass, Forrest dribbled some two steps left to the top of the key before throwing up his fall-away jumper for the game winner.
Keys to the Game
- The return of senior forward Isaac Johnson from injury provided energy and inspiration for the App State side. He was limited to just 30 minutes of court time, but contributed 8 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists
- App State’s defensive scheme forced the Eagles to shoot from outside and they were only successful on 8-of-30 three-point attempts, or 27%
- The Mountaineers fared slightly better from long distance, hitting on 9-of-25 from long distance, 36%
- Unlike Thursday night’s 50% shooting from the free throw line (against Georgia State), on Saturday the Mountaineers converted on almost 90% of their opportunities from the charity stripe
- While Georgia Southern’s bench outscored App State 25-2, the Mountaineers outrebounded the Eagles, 42-31
- With regular sophomore starter Adrian Delph sidelined with an injury, freshmen forwards Kendall Lewis and Donovan Gregory stepped up. Lewis got the start and had 11 points and 6 rebounds in 30 minutes of court time. Gregory recorded 2 points and 4 rebounds in just 16 minutes on the floor
The Eagles drew up a desperation play of their own with under a second remaining, but redshirt senior guard Ike Smith had missed his previous five shots and did not fare any better on this one, his futile attempt from a little left of center and just past midcourt clanged against the glass backboard and fell to the floor as time expired.
“We hate them and they hate us,” App State senior guard Williams smiled to reporters later in acknowledging a fierce rivalry dating back to the years both were in the Southern Conference. For AppNation, snatching a basketball victory from the clutches of defeat represented at least a hint of revenge for the Mountaineers’ 24-21 football loss to the Eagles on October 31, 2019. Even further back, it exacted a measure of revenge for the Eagles’ successful 35-foot men’s basketball buzzer-beater in 2016 that jabbed a dagger in the hearts of AppNation, in the same Holmes Center.
Back and forth — and forth
After the score was knotted at 7-7 with just over 15 minutes remaining in the first half, App State went on 14-5 run to take a 21-12 early advantage — but they couldn’t hold it. It took a little more than three minutes for Georgia Southern to battle back and take a 22-21 lead with 6:38 remaining in the first half.
GSU would increase the Mountaineers’ deficit to 10 points by intermission, 39-29. In the first half, App State’s Forrest only found the bottom of the net for six points, but a driving layup just 27 seconds into the second half put things in motion for the Mountaineers. Less than a half-minute later, big man Hunter Seacat, a redshirt senior, delivered on a hook shot jumper deep in the lane and the deficit had been shrunk to six.
The Eagles capitalized on free throw opportunities, senior forward Isaiah Crawley making three of four from the line to expand the lead back out to nine. But the Mountaineers went on an 8-0 run to pull within a single point thanks to a 3-pointer by senior forward Isaac Johnson, another driving layup by Forrest and made free throws by Forrest and lanky freshman forward Kendall Lewis.
With just under 12 minutes remaining in the game, App State took a 3-point lead on a rafter-raising dunk by Seacat, but Georgia Southern seemed to take control of the game with 20-10 run, jumping out to a 7-point lead with 3:15 remaining. Williams hit on a 3-point pullup jumper near the center of the arc, then calmly sank a pair of free throws at the 1:34 mark to narrow the gap to just two points (71-69). The Eagles’ redshirt junior guard Quan Jackson made one of two free throws to give the visitors from Statesboro, GA a three-point lead with 49 seconds left.
Forrest figured in the Mountaineers’ last two scoring opportunities, however. After flying to the basket with a layup at the 41 second mark to pull to within one (72-71), there was about a 9-second difference between the shot clock and the game clock. GSU was forced to take a shot or turn the ball over on a shot clock violation, but the Eagles’ veteran Smith missed from the outside, but still inside the paint. With 10 seconds remaining, APP’s Seacat secured the defensive rebound and the Mountaineers were in business. The big senior got the ball to Williams along the right side and the senior guard quickly got the ball upcourt, driving the right side before passing back to Forrest. With less than a second remaining, the Holmes Center crowd erupted as the junior guard from Decatur, GA saved the day.
Held to just six points in the first half, Forrest’s 19 pts after the break proved critical in changing in the course of the game.
With the win, Appalachian State moves to 9-6 overall and 3-1 in Sun Belt Conference play. In losing, Georgia Southern has an identical record, 9-6 overall and 3-1 in the SBC. The two rivals are tied with Georgia State for second place in the Sun Belt, with Little Rock leading the league at 4-0 (10-5 overall).