By Paul T. Choate
Feb. 28, 2013. It’s going to be an exciting night for Southern Conference men’s basketball this evening. Tonight is one of only two chances remaining to get to see the Mountaineers (12-15, 8-8 SoCon) play at the Holmes Center and when the dust settles there may be a three-way tie for second in the SoCon North standings.
The Mountaineers are currently in a tie for third with archrival Western Carolina (11-17, 8-8 SoCon) in the SoCon North and will take on Samford (11-18, 9-7 SoCon) at 7 p.m. today. A win this evening would place ASU in a tie with Samford for second. If Western Carolina can knock off Chattanooga (12-17, 7-9 SoCon) this evening in Cullowhee there will be a three-way tie for second.
No one has a chance to catch Elon (19-10, 12-5 SoCon) for the top spot in the SoCon North, but the standings still matter greatly as we look ahead to the SoCon Tournament in Asheville on March 8-11 at the Asheville Civic Center. Appalachan, Samford and Western Carolina are the top contenders to earn the No. 4 overall seed in the SoCon Tournament as the No. 1-3 seeds have already been wrapped up (Davidson (22-7, 16-1 SoCon); Charleston (20-9, 12-4 SoCon); and Elon). The top two teams in each division of the SoCon will receive a first-round bye and automatically advance to Saturday’s second round.
The Mountaineers are coming off an extended break, having not played since Feb. 20, and will look to be well-rested against a tough Samford team that has enjoyed a decent amount of time off as well, having not played since last Saturday.
At times, it has been a tough season to be a Mountaineers fan. After starting the season with a huge 86-54 win over Montreat College on Nov. 9 the team hit a bad losing streak, dropping seven straight games and eight out of nine.
Fans who have attended the Holmes Center this season haven’t been too disappointed though. During that seven-game losing streak, only one loss came on their home court. All season, the squad has been pretty good at home with an 8-4 record following their loss to The Citadel last week in a close one, 80-77 in overtime.
Probably the high point in the season came on Jan. 12 at the Holmes Center, when the Mountaineers defeated now-SoCon North best Elon.
Nathan Healy led five scorers in double-figures and ASU posted an 80-70 victory over the visiting Phoenix. Appalachian never led and trailed by as many as 12 points on three different occasions in the first half but used a 15-3 run over the final 4:57 of the opening period to send the teams into the locker room knotted at 34-34.
Elon closed within two points with 5:26 remaining but Appalachian made 7-of-9 free throws and outscored the Phoenix 17-9 down the stretch to claim the double-digit triumph.
In fact, one big reason to go see the Mountaineers in their last two games is the play of No. 11. The senior forward Healy has emerged as a star in a season of mediocrity in terms of the win-loss column.
Healy is currently averaging 14.6 points per game while pulling down 7.6 rebounds per game. He leads the SoCon in effective field goal percentage at .575 while being sixth in the conference in player efficiency rating.
Healy’s best performance of the season came in a home win over Western Carolina on Feb. 2, when he scored 24 points on 8-11 from the field including four three-pointers, grabbed eight rebounds and recorded seven steals — a feat that no other player in NCAA Division I basketball has accomplished this season.
The accolades keep piling up too. On Feb. 19, Healy was named as a second-team Capital One Academic All-America selection. In addition to the New Bern native’s on court prowess, he carries a 3.99 cumulative grade-point average as a management major.
Tickets for tonight’s game are $10 for adults and $5 for youth (ages 3-12). Tickets are available through the Holmes Center box office or online at goasu.com.
Appalachian closes out the season against Chattanooga on Saturday, March 2, at 2 p.m. at the Holmes Center.