By David Coulson. February 21, 2019. BOONE, NC — In a game that endured atrocious defense for most of the night, it was ironic that a stellar defensive play turned the tide allowing Georgia State to escape with an 80-75 Sun Belt Conference (SBC) men’s basketball victory over Appalachian State, Thursday evening at the Holmes Convocation Center.
COVER IMAGE: Georgia State and Appalachian State both needed this win: Georgia State battling Texas State for the #1 seed in the Sun Belt tournament, App State just trying to make the 10-team field after a late start in finding its winning ways. Photographic images by Bill Barbour, edited and processed by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Kane Williams blocked Ronshad Shabazz’s potential game-tying, three-point effort (see below) with just under 13 seconds left in what at the time was a 78-75 contest. In the meantime, GSU’s Jordan Tyson sank two free throws at the other end to preserve the Panthers’ win and keep them a half-game back of first-place Texas State in the SBC standings.
The tournament-tested Panthers (19-8 overall, 10-4 in conference) used their torrid start and confident finish to hold off the Mountaineers before probably the most raucous crowd of the season (1,653) in Boone.
After battling back from a 17-point hole in the first seven minutes and 10 seconds, Appalachian (9-17, 4-9) showed remarkable resiliency to battle back and take the lead several times in the second half. And yet, with the game tied at 75, Georgia State made the key plays over the final 1:47 to claim its tough road triumph.
Willliams (18 points) floated in a driving shot from the lane with 42 seconds left, was fouled by the Mountaineers’ junior forward Isaac Johnson and added a free throw to give Georgia State its final lead. Then he stepped out to three-point range to swat away Shabazz’s jumper and Jeff Thomas grabbed the rebound for the Panthers before it trickled out of bounds at the baseline.
“A 17-point lead is tough to spot a team as good as this,” App State head coach Jim Fox said about a Panther squad that won the Sun Belt Conference tournament last year and advanced to the first round of the NCAA tournament. “I don’t think we executed well at the end. You put it all together and it’s another loss.”
At this point of the season, another morale booster wasn’t what the Mountaineers needed as they try to battle for one of the 10 Sun Belt tournament berths. App State sits tied for last place with Troy in the 12-team league. South Alabama, Arkansas State and Arkansas-Little Rock are all a game ahead of Appalachian and Troy with five games remaining on the Mountaineers’ regular-season schedule.
“It’s tough, but we have to learn from it,” said sophomore guard Justin Forrest, who scored a team-high 17 points against his hometown rival from Atlanta.
Forrest battled through calf cramps at the end of the game, but came up short on a trey of his own with 1:02 left and the contest still tied.
With both teams cranking in shots for most of the night, particularly from behind the arc, Appalachian’s 15 turnovers, compared to just five for GSU proved to be decisive.
“We weren’t careless, we just weren’t making good passes,” said Forest.
Isaac Johnson complemented Forrest with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Tyrell Johnson added 13 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots. Shabazz struggled through a 4-of-11 shooting night and ended up with 11 points.
Georgia State challenged Appalachian with its five-guard sets for most of the evening. The Panthers’ Malik Benievi poured in a game-high 20 points and collected nine rebounds. D’Marcus Simonds joined Williams with 18 points and Thomas contributed 11 points.
The Mountaineers will be back at home to finish a three-game home stand on Saturday at 2 p.m. when it hosts arch-rival Georgia Southern at the Holmes Center.