BOONE — The Appalachian State Mountaineers men’s basketball team won their rivalry game against the Georgia Southern Eagles in a comeback with a nail-biting finish to a 66-64 contest on Jan. 8.
Mountaineers Head Coach Dustin Kerns said it was a hard-fought, “typical Sunbelt (conference)” game. Both teams went into the game with 7-4 records and coming off of their first conference win.
The Eagles relied on their three-point shooting in the first half, trying to keep pace with the Mountaineers who were shooting more nearly twice as often. The eagles opened the game shooting 80 percent from beyond the arc in the first eight minutes, spreading the ball around to find whoever could get their shot. However, they cooled off as the game went on, finishing 8-25 from beyond the arc.
Georgia Southern managed a 10-0 run around the 10 minute mark of the first half, grabbing a lead while the Mountaineers struggled to keep up. The Eagles were shooting lights out early, hitting more than 60 percent of their shots through the first 11 minutes of the game.
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers went on a field goal drought of more than six minutes as they sunk behind their rivals. When Cam Bryant hit a three with just over a minute remaining in the half, it put the Eagles up by a clean, 10 points.
Bryant’s three left the Mountaineers down 39-29 at the half.
The Eagles kept at it, while the Mountaineers still struggled to break through enough to get the game close again. The Mountaineers trailed by as many as 16 in the second half.
However, App slowly clawed back, getting the game within six points with eight minutes left in the game.
“I thought our program responded, a lot of guys stepped up,” Kerns said. “I thought our bench, our managers, our coaches, everybody brought a lot of energy.”
With four-and-a-half minutes left, Mountaineers guard Michael Almonacy banged in a three to make it a three-point game. Two minutes later, Almonacy drove inside to make a left-handed layup and tie the game at 63. He finished the contest with a game-high 14 points, with 12 coming in the second half.
With less than 30 seconds left and the game tied, Donovan Gregory was fouled by Bryant, giving him two free throws. Gregory missed the first, but sank the second for a one-point lead with 8.6 seconds left.
Mountaineers senior guard Justin Forrest said after the game that while App’s scoreline might have plateaued at points, the players never backed down.
“They went on a couple of runs and we were very stagnant,” Forrest said. “We knew we had our run in us, we just fought the whole game and never gave up really, it's all about confidence.”
Eagles forward Prince Toyambi had the chance to win the game, but could not sink the shot. Justin Forrest pulled in the rebound, who was then fouled by Toyambi. Forrest drained both free throws with half of a second left, sealing the 66-64 win.
The game was the first in a back-to-back series with the Eagles, with another matchup following it up on Saturday, Jan. 9.