By Colby Gable
Last night marked the return of college basketball across the country, including the start of Appalachian State’s 2019-2020 season where they began in Ann Arbor, losing a resiliently played game 79-71.
While the Mountaineers started off struggling as they gave up 11 straight points to Wolverines’ center, Jon Teske, and found themselves down 46-25 at halftime, there were certainly some positive takeaways for Appalachian to consider postgame, despite the final on the scoreboard. Actually outscoring Michigan in the second half is one of these side notes, as App was able to get some offensive rhythm going in the second half, predominantly thanks to Junior, Justin Forrest. The 6’2 guard out of Decatur, Georgia, was the Mountaineers’ Number 1 offensive go-to as he ended the game with a total of 27 points on a phenomenal 47% field goal percentage at 10-21 shooting overall and going 2-5 from the 3 point line. Especially down the end of the game, Forrest showed a great ability to both drive the ball and finish in the lane while also hitting a deep 3 to cut the lead to 10 with 3:35 left in the game.
One area which the Mountaineers may still seek some improvement in is the defensive side of the ball, an aspect of this team’s play-style which Coach Dustin Kerns emphasized during the preseason. Perhaps the worst stretch of defense for the Mountaineers came at the 16-13 stretch in the second half where Appalachian had allowed for a wide open three due to what seemed to be miscommunication or an inability to cover assignments while in the 2-3 zone, subsequently turning the ball over for a fast break, and then giving up a wide open dunk on an offensive possession to allow Michigan to go up 30.
However, the transition into a zone defense approach seemed to be part of what slowed the Michigan offense down, as guard Eli Brooks mentioned after the game, “I feel like whenever teams go zone, there’s a possibility of slowing down the pace and waiting for them to set up, instead of pushing it at them and not letting them get set up. I think we kind of fell into that trap and started walking the ball up the court instead of pushing it like we did in the first half.”
While the zone seemed to be effective, and resulted in 17 turnovers from Michigan, App still topped the stat with 19 which played a huge role in the fast-break and quick paced points for UM of the first half, and it will be interesting to see what Coach Kerns implements going forward, as we have already seen the way App’s defensive schemes can translate to helping change the pace of the game and even the offense. On Media Day of this season, “I’m going to make adjustments based off our players, not our system…our identity wants to be on the defensive end of the floor. And that’s something we’ve got to continue to get better at.”
Yet one true positive which does come from the defensive side of the ball is how the Mountaineers were able to give up only 6 points to Michigan’s, Zavier Simpson, who has been on the preseason watchlist for the Bob Cousy Award given at the end of the year to the nation’s top point guard. Simpson ended with 6 turnovers including 4 out of Michigan’s 9 in the second half and shot only 2-8 in over 27 minutes of play.
This game was certainly one which had moments that made it much more competitive than people were expecting, especially once the two minute mark hit and App was only down 6 points. And make no mistake, this is a solid Michigan team who brought in Michigan legend and NBA Champion, Juwan Howard, to fill the role of Head Coach after losing John Beilein to the NBA, including a strong starting 5 with Teske, and Eli Brooks who went 7-15 shooting, ending with 24 points, and players who as mentioned are on national watchlists coming into the season.
After a close battle with Michigan, Appalachian will hope to rebound from the loss in its first home game of the season versus Division III Ferrum College at 7:00 on November 7th at the Holmes Convocation Center. With Ferrum coming off the ’18-’19 season at 5-20, this game should expectedly be less of a challenge for the Mountaineers surrounded in their home environment.
Promotional additions for November 7’s game will include key-tag giveaways and a Postgame Meet and Greet where those in the audience will have a chance to talk to players and sign autographs after the game.
Fans wishing to purchase single-game tickets for the upcoming season can do so by calling the Appalachian State ticket office at 828-262-2079. Students are given free admission and General Admission tickets are $15/adult and $10/Youth (ages 3-12), with lower-level reserved tickets currently going for $10-&15 for November 7th as well. For tickets vs. Ferrum, click here.
Season tickets are still on sale and can be purchased here.
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