By David Rogers. March 9, 2019. BOONE, NC — Size may not be everything in basketball, but it doesn’t hurt. With a 40-24 advantage scoring inside the paint, the visiting South Alabama Jaguars (15-16 overall, 8-10 Sun Belt) shoved aside host Appalachian State (11-20, 6-12) on Saturday in front of 1,104 at the Holmes Center, 78-71.
COVER IMAGE: Appalachian State senior guard Ronshad Shabazz got Senior Day started with a bang, but the Mountaineers could not hold on for the win. Photographic image by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
It may not have been the Senior Day that the elder Mountaineers were hoping for, but sometimes there is a bigger plan. Holding out App State’s Johnsons, Isaac (ankle) and Tyrell (sick) when there was little or nothing to gain in the Sun Belt Conference standings was probably the smartest thing the coaching braintrust could do. Win or lose, the Mountaineers were going to be in the Sun Belt tournament as the #10 (and last) seed.
It was an all-senior lineup that started the game for the Mountaineers and it included Tyrell Johnson, but the 6-8 lanky senior from Atlanta only stayed on the court for three minutes.
The short-handed Mountaineers had few answers for South Alabama’s size and quickness. Four Jags finished the game in double figures and two of them registered double-doubles. A 6-7, 245 lb. big man, redshirt junior Josh Ajayi did most of the damage for South Alabama, pouring in a game-high 26 points. Showing off his versatility, the El Monte, California native’s point total included going 1-for-1 from behind the 3-point arc and shooting 5-of-6 from the charity stripe.
Fellow redshirt junior forward Trhae Mitchell added 18 points for USA, while pulling down 11 rebounds. Junior guard Herb McGee contributed 12 points and was in position for 10 rebounds while dishing out seven assists. The Jaguars also got 15 points from graduate transfer (from South Carolina) Kory Holden, a 6-2 guard from Salisbury, Maryland.
Appalachian led by as much as five points near the midway point of the first half, but a 3-pointer by the Jags’ Holden and a jumper by Mitchell tied the game for the third time at 18-18.
Turnovers by the Mountaineers and their shots clanging off the rim didn’t help when Ajayi and Mitchell combined to dominate play inside to close out the half, giving the Jaguars a 36-30 lead at intermission.
South Alabama gradually pulled away in the second half, the Jaguars firing on all cylinders to lead by as many as 13 with just under nine minutes to play in the game. Appalachian closed to within five points with 24 seconds left on the game clock, but that is as close as they could get.
App State head coach Jim Fox said later that he had cautioned his players about driving too deep down the lane before shooting or kicking the ball out because South Alabama “has length”, as well as speed to cover. He felt that in the closing minutes when they were threatening to come back, “We left some guys open on the perimeter by over-penetrating (and taking awkward shots at the basket).”
For Appalachian, sophomore guard Justin Forrest scored a team-high 21 points, while senior guard Ronshad Shabazz added 16 points, four rebounds and five assists.
As the #10 seed in the Sun Belt Conference tournament. the Mountaineers will be hosted by #7 seed, Louisiana-Monroe on Tuesday, March 12th. Fox told reporters in Saturday’s post-game press conference that he did not yet know the status of either Isaac or Tyrell Johnson and whether they would be available on Tuesday.
OTHER SUN BELT CONFERENCE SCORES ON SATURDAY
- Troy 74, at Coastal Carolina 67
- Texas-Arlington 81, vs. Texas State 73
- Louisiana-Monroe 79, at Arkansas-Little Rock 62
- Louisiana 90, at Arkansas State 87 (OT)
- Georgia State 90, at Georgia Southern 85
SLIDESHOW by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News