By David Coulson. March 7, 2018. NEW ORLEANS, LA — Appalachian State couldn’t have asked for much more of a perfect opening game in the first round of the Sun Belt men’s basketball tournament Wednesday afternoon at the Lakefront Arena.
The fifth-seeded Mountaineers used 41 points combined from freshmen guards O’Showen Williams and Justin Forrest to complete a season sweep of Arkansas-Little Rock — and easily sweep the No. 12 seed from the tournament, 93-64.
Williams scored a career-high 22 points and Forrest added 19 as ASU shot 56% for the game (30-of-54), including 55% from three-point range (12-of-22) and 81% from the free-throw stripe (21-of-26).
The Mountaineers (15-17) showed the same terrific ball movement they displayed in Saturday’s crucial, regular-season-ending win over Coastal Carolina and finished with five players in double figures. Ronshad Shabazz and Griffin Kinney tallied 12 points each, while Isaac Johnson contributed 11 points and 11 rebounds to this team-oriented effort.
The victory lifted App State into Friday’s quarterfinals, where the Mountaineers will face Texas-Arlington (19-12) for the third time this season. ASU and UTA spilt the two games in the regular season.
“Obviously, it’s a good time to put both things together today,” App State coach Jim Fox said. “I thought we put it together defensively and I thought we really put it together offensively too. I’m very proud of our guys and the way they handled themselves all year, but especially at this point.”
Appalachian burst out of the gate with a 7-0 start and led 12-2 on the way to the wire-to-wire win. Sustaining pressure on the Trojans throughout, the Mountaineers built their lead to 46-25 at the half by not allowing UALR (39% shooting for the game) to hit a single shot outside of the paint.
“I thought we got after it and defended well today,” said Fox. “We kept talking to guys about being able to step in an environment like this and they did everything we asked. We really guarded well. We shared the ball, we had 18 assists. The way we can play, when we do that, we’re pretty darn good.”
About the only sign of concern came when Little Rock took advantage of some sloppy play to cut the Mountaineers’ advantage to 17 points with 12 minutes remaining. But after a quick Fox time out, Appalachian responded with a 10-0 run to put the contest out of reach.
The Mountaineers led by as many as 30 points in the second half before finishing with a 29-point victory.
“Obviously, we made some shots, but I thought our ability to get the ball inside and score with Griff really sets that up,” Fox explained. “Not only was Griff able to score inside but he was able to find the open man and that led us to some open opportunities.”
No one took better advantage of that than Williams, who has come on strong as the Mountaineers won six of their last eight games. Williams was 3-of-3 from three-point range and 6-of-8 from the field, while hitting 7-of-9 from the charity stripe. In addition, he contributed three of the Mountaineers’ eight steals.
Forrest was also 6-of-8 overall and nailed 4-of-5 treys as he split time with Williams.
Jaizec Lottie and Wadly Mompremier were about the only scoring threats for the discombobulated Trojan offense. Lottie scored a team-high 13 points and Mompremier added 12 for UALR, which was a tepid 4-of-18 from behind the three-point arc.
Appalachian now turns its attention to UTA. The Mountaineers beat the Mavericks 80-78 in Boone on December 31, but dropped an 89-77 decision on the road in a game that was close until the end.