By David Coulson
BOONE, N.C. — After thrilling fans with one of the most exciting games in Holmes Convocation Center history in its last home game, a week-and-a-half back in a 101-100 loss against Georgia Southern, Appalachian State was looking for an appropriate encore and win on Thursday night.
Instead, almost non-existent offensive execution and huge matchup problems on defense in the first half doomed the Mountaineers to an 87-76 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette in Sun Belt Conference men’s basketball play.
Led by 19 points and 10 rebounds from 6-foot-11, 246-pound postman Shawn Long, the Ragin’ Cajuns (13-8 overall, 9-3 in the Sun Belt) cut App State apart for their eighth straight victory, though things got scary in the final five minutes for ULL.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” said Long, a legitimate NBA prospect, who was watched by a scout from the Indiana Pacers on Thursday. “We had the last run and we won.”
Switching from its normal man-to-man defense to the 1-3-1 zone and taking advantage of poor ULL free-throw shooting (20-of-38 overall) in the second half allowed the Mountaineers to trim the Ragin’ Cajun lead to four points at 78-72 with 5:08 remaining, but Louisiana-Lafayette closed out the victory with a 9-4 run.
“Conference wins are good, they are never easy,” said ULL coach Bob Marlin. “I felt we won the gem in the first half. We’ve played four games in eight days. We are spent.”
Appalachian (6-16, 4-7) led 5-2 through the first four minutes on an early three-pointer from Ronshad Shabazz and Jacob Lawson’s two-point shot, but the Mountaineers hit just four of their next 11 shots and committed five turnovers as ULL roared to its 34-17 advantage.
A 52-35 halftime edge for the Ragin Cajuns sent many in the crowd of 1,325 streaming for the exits at the intermission.
Louisiana-Lafayette shot 60% in the first half, while ASU struggled with 35.3% marksmanship.
“They came out in the first half and really put us on our heals,” ASU coach Jim Fox said. “They probably relaxed in the second half a little bit and we were able to get back into the game.”
The gritty Mountaineers, stung by a fiery halftime exhortation from Fox, fought their way into the contest over the first 15 minutes of the second period.
Freshman Ronshad Shabazz (team-high 18 points, five rebounds and two steals), Griffin Kinney (10 points, five rebounds) and Frank Eaves (15 points) fueled things on the offensive end.
Fox “was definitely furious with us at halftime,” said Shabazz. “Things started started falling for us in the second half.”
Eaves struggled to his second straight poor shooting night (4-of-17 from the field and 0-of-4 from three-point range), but he still managed to get to the free-throw line for 10 charity tosses.
Much of Eaves’ struggles could be traced to the defensive play of ULL guard Jay Wright, who harassed the Sun Belt’s leading scorer all night. Wright also finished with 12 points, four rebounds, a pair of assists and one steal.
Forward Bryce Washington added 14 points and nine rebounds for the Ragin’ Cajuns and Johnathan Stove contributed 10 points and four assists.
Appalachian players were disappointed that the spotty, first-half performance ultimately cost them another conference game.
“It shouldn’t take an entire half for us to figure things out,” said Kinney.
The win solidified ULL’s hold on second place in the Sun Belt, a game and a half behind first-place Arkansas-Little Rock, while the loss left Appalachian tied with South Alabama for the eighth and final spot in the conference tournament next month in New Orleans.
“We just didn’t execute offensively and (ULL) made some big plays,” Fox said of the final minutes.
The Mountaineers will be back on the court Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. game against Louisiana-Monroe (10-12, 6-5) at home. ULM beat ASU 72-56 on New Year’s Eve in Monroe, Louisiana.
ASU WOMEN SCORE UPSET
Appalachian State picked up a win in women’s basketball on Thursday, closing with a strong fourth quarter to beat second-place Louisiana-Lafayette, 76-59, in Sun Belt action.
Madi Story piled up 23 points and KeKe Cooper added 13 for the Lady Mountaineers (7-13, 4-7) against the Ragin’ Cajuns (16-5, 9-3). ULL’s KeKe Veal led all scorers with 27 points.
Appalachian will host Louisiana-Monroe at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
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