By David Coulson
Despite another excruciating loss on Thursday night in Sun Belt Conference men’s basketball action, Appalachian State senior guard Frank Eaves is still confident that his Mountaineer team can turn the corner before the season ends.
Eaves toiled for his team-high 27 points against South Alabama before 1,253 spectators at the Holmes Convocation Center, but it didn’t prevent another stinging defeat in the final seconds as the Jaguars held on for its 75-71 victory in a game with serious Sun Belt tournament implications.
“We’re teetering on the edge of being a really good team,” said Eaves. “It just all comes down to execution. The winning plays we need to make, we just don’t make them.”
USA guard Ken Williams matched Eaves’ production with 27 points to lead the Jaguars, who didn’t have another player score in double figures.
Appalachian (6-20 overall, 4-11 in the SBC) struggled to 31% shooting on Thursday, but were still in this contest in the last minute.
But Eaves rimmed out a three-point shot with 13 seconds to play that would have tied the game and Shaq Calhoun hit the second of two free throws attempts to seal the win for another struggling team, South Alabama (12-15, 7-9).
Hoping for a miracle, four-point play at the final buzzer, freshman Ronshad Shabazz (12 points) had another trey spin out as the game ended as the Mountaineers fell for the sixth time this season in seven contests decided by four points or less.
Shabazz also had a good look at a three-pointer with App State trailing by one, 70-69, with 36 seconds left, but couldn’t coax the shot into the basket.
“At the end of the game, we just have to make plays,” said Shabazz.
After the misses by Shabazz and Eaves, the Jaguars responded each time with a pair of free throws by both Barrington Stevens and Nick Stover to pull away. Eaves drove for a lay-in with six seconds on the clock to keep the game alive before Calhoun’s single charity toss made it a four-point lead.
The Mountaineers could have moved to within one win of South Alabama in the race for the eighth and final spot in the Sun Belt tournament next month in New Orleans, but once again, App State couldn’t find a way to get over the hump.
“I’m always confident we are going to win,” said ASU second-year coach Jim Fox. “It’s just the way the year’s been going. We just couldn’t get anything to fall.”
With so much riding on this contest, both teams played tight in the first half with poor shooting and a combined 12 turnovers leading to a 33-33 score at the intermission. The game was knotted up 15 different times.
The sluggish play extended into the second half before South Alabama built its largest lead at six points, 58-52, on a pair of Calhoun free throws with 8:43 remaining.
Appalachian battled back and took the advantage twice the rest of the way, the final time at 69-68 on two Eaves shots from the foul line with 1:51 left, but the Mountaineers could get the defensive stops it needed, or enough offense as the clock drained out.
“This was a must-win game for us tonight,” said USA coach Matthew Graves. “We felt we missed a great opportunity on Tuesday night (in a 61-54 home loss to last-place Troy). We felt we need this one, giving us a sweep of App State.”
Graves echoed the comments of Eaves by noting how close the Mountaineers are to being a force in the Sun Belt.
“I think coach Fox is doing a great job,” said Graves. “They’ve got some talented players, they’re really not that far off. You just need that experience in that moment.”
With five games remaining in the regular season, Appalachian may have to win at least four of them to vault into the Sun Belt tournament, including one home contest on March 3 against league-leading Arkansas-Little Rock (22-3, 12-2).
“As crazy as it sounds, we aren’t out of it,” said Fox. “The biggest thing for this team is getting one (win).”
Fox doesn’t have to sell that philosophy to his senior leader.
“We need to win four, or five games,” Eaves said. “I have the upmost confidence in everyone, we just have to make the plays. We aren’t out of it.”
The Mountaineers can take that first step on Saturday afternoon when they host Troy (9-17, 4-11) for a 3:30 p.m. contest. Appalachian beat the Trojans, 75-71, on the road on Jan. 28.
SOUTH ALABAMA ALSO BESTS LADY MOUNTAINEERS
The Appalachian State women’s basketball team had an even rougher time on Thursday, losing to South Alabama, 68-54, in Sun Belt play.
The physical Jaguars (13-12, 9-7) limited the Lady Mountaineers to 35% shooting and received offensive support from Marquita Daniels (19 points) and Colby Davis (15).
USA led by as many as 22 points as it dominated the first three quarters of play against the injury-depleted ASU squad.
Madi Story (13 points), KeKe Cooper (13 points and 11 rebounds) and Joi Jones (11 points) paced the attack for App State (8-16, 5-10).
The Lady Mountaineers will be back in action for a 6:15 p.m. game against Troy on Saturday.
You must be logged in to post a comment.