For the first time this season, in its twenty-first game, Appalachian will finally play its first game this season against a conference opponent for the second time. Way back in December, Appalachian went to Cullowhee, holding a ten point lead at halftime, and an eight point lead with ten minutes to play, before finally falling to the Catamounts by six points. It was the scene of the crime of the infamous “Worst Free Throw Ever”, now with a lowly 18 million YouTube views. That game was actually a sign of things to come for Appalachian. The Mountaineers controlled most of the game, before losing late. Reminds us all so much of just about every game in the last three weeks, namely Chattanooga, Georgia Southern, most recently Charleston. The difference between that game, and those most recent games are that the expectation level was different. In December, when the Apps played Western, they were still without Mike Neal, and nobody expected the Mountaineers to win that game. When Neal returned, the Mountaineers started playing better, and the expectations grew with a miniature winning streak in early January.
It is almost like the season has come full circle to an extent. The Mountaineers are back to their ways of losing games where they held leads, or went scoreless for long periods of time. Another difference is that Western has lost four of their last five games, mostly to teams that Appalachian has played very recently. Western has kept their games close, but have not been able to close them out, very similar to how Appalachian is playing. Western’s slump began on January 14th with a loss to Elon, which they followed up with a loss to Samford on the road. The Catamounts then outscored Chattanooga, before losing by single digits to both Georgia Southern and Davidson.
Western features four players averaging double digit points, led by Trey Sumler at 17.6 per game. Tawaski King is their main post player, socring 11.5 points a game while grabbing 5.8 rebounds. Three pointer shooter Tom Tankelwicz has hit 58 treys on the season while shooting at a 40% clip. Brandon Boggs chips in 10.4 points per game.
The question for Appalachian is whether or not Mike Neal will make a difference in this game. Appalachian took good care of the basketball with only nine turnovers in the first matchup, but could not hit a shot in the second half from anywhere. The real different is the play of Tevin Baskin, who only played two minuted in the first game. Baskin brings a lot of athleticism to the Mountaineer lineup, and really is the only fresh player on the team. Baskin has been scoring points and grabbing rebounds in bunches in the last few games, but the problem is, Appalachian has not been winning.
Western has lost the last four games against the spread where they were favored, and is 4-0-1 in its last five games where they are underdogs. Appalachian, as we have detailed on a weekly basis, has been the streakiest team in college basketball against the spread. The Mountaineers covered the first ten games, and have not covered their last five games. Something has to give soon, or does it? I think these two teams are very even, and the Mountaineers were undermanned back in December. My educated guess is that we could see a PK or Appalachian favored by two points.
8:51 AM UPDATE: When we checked the line late last night and this morning, the Mountaineers were considered 1.5 point favorites, and that seems just about right for me. Since I want the Apps to win, I will gladly take a small number.
Appalachian held off a late Western Carolina rally and held on for their fifth conference win of the season in a nine point win. Appalachian controlled most of the game, leading by as many as fourteen points in the first half. Western never led in the game, but cut Appalachian’s lead to one point with two minutes to play at 65-64. The Mountaineers finished the game on a 9-1 run, with Nathan Healy scoring seven of his 24 points in the final two minutes.
Healy scored 15 points in the first half, responding well from his dismal performance against Charleston two nights earlier. Healy was quiet in the second half, scoring only one field goal in the first eighteen minutes of the second half. Healy scored on a three, a dunk and two free throws in the closing minutes, and it was perfect example of his all around game. Healy added eight rebounds, seven steals and two timely blocks to his line for the game. Appalachian has now split the season series with its first conference opponent and it has put them at 5-5 in conference play, just a half game behind Samford for second place in the SoCon North. Elon has a commanding three game lead over Appalachian with only eight conference games remaining.
Appalachian tipped off as a 1.5 point favorite and broke the losing streak against the spread, to go 11-5 on the season. Our picks are one game behind at 10-6 for the season. Appalachian’s next opponent, Georgia Southern will most likely be favored against the Mountaineers. For whatever reason, Georgia Southern has always been a tough road game for the men. Factor in how Appalachian blew a huge lead at home just a few games ago and could not cover against the Eagles.