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Donovan Gregory
Donovan Gregory led the Mountaineers with 22 points.
photo courtesy of Appalachian State Athletics

App State Men’s Basketball Survives Overtime Scare Against Georgia Southern

A pair of Terence Harcum free throws tied the game at 76 with 16 seconds to play after Georgia Southern had taken the lead. Then, Justin Abson contested the potential game-winning shot to send things to overtime. The App State Mountaineers used Abson’s contest and Harcum’s free throws to outscore the Eagles by five points in overtime to secure a hard-fought 85-80 win in the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt Tournament on Saturday.

Donovan Gregory’s heroic performance down the stretch and in overtime helped guide the Mountaineers (27-5, 16-2 SBC) to the close win. On the same day when he became the 12th Mountaineer ever to eclipse 1,500 points, his 12 second-half points and perfect free-throw shooting brought composure back to the Mountaineer bench.

The Mountaineer defense down the stretch on Eagle guard Tyren Moore switched the momentum to App State’s side as he was held scoreless in overtime after scoring 36 in regulation. The Eagles (9-24, 8-10 SBC) made just two field goals in the extra frame after shooting 46 percent in the second half to tie the game.

Justin Abson’s defense in the quarterfinal matchup was incredible as he tallied his third seven-block performance of the year while also tallying his third double-double of the season with 13 points and 12 rebounds. He sits just six blocks away from the first 100-block season in program history.

App State dominated the matchup in the paint, scoring 52 paint points which is the second-most against a Division I opponent this season. Because of the Mountaineers’ ability to score close, they were able to tire out the Eagles and advance to the tournament semifinals.

The Mountaineers started hot from the field, scoring 13 of the game’s first 18 points while imposing their will on the defensive side by keeping the Eagles to just two made field goals in the first five minutes. Justin Abson got loose a few times in the paint and thundered home a slam off a sweet find by Xavion Brown to close out the hot start for the Mountaineers.

Georgia Southern and Avantae Parker cut the lead back down to five as he tallied his first points of the contest, but a bucket by Tre’Von Spillers and a long three by Christopher Mantis propelled the Mountaineers ahead by nine and sent the App State faithful who made the trip down to Pensacola into an uproar.

Spillers put in another basket off his offensive rebound and pushed things to seven at the under-12 break. Then, CJ Huntley got involved with a pair of ferocious two-handed slams as App State led by 11 at the 10:27 mark, its largest lead of the game to that point.

App State continued to push the throttle both offensively and defensively as Abson blocked away his fourth shot of the half with five minutes to play, which led to a runout and a layup for Myles Tate to extend the lead to 14. But Tyren Moore ended the Mountaineer frenzy with a three just before the last media stoppage to trim the Mountaineer lead to 11.

The Mountaineers held firm to close the half, keeping their double-digit lead intact as play progressed to the halftime buzzer. Donovan Gregory’s free throws pushed App State over the 40-point threshold in the first half and gave App State an 11-point advantage.

A pair of Cam Bryant free throws trimmed the lead to 10 just before the buzzer and it would stay there as the first-half horn sounded. It was the third straight game in which App State took a double-digit lead into the halftime break.

All nine players who saw the floor scored in the first half marking the 17th game this season where at least nine players have scored. Both Gregory and Abson paced App State with eight apiece while Abson was well on his way to a double-double with eight rebounds and four blocks.

Defensively, the Mountaineers held a high-scoring Georgia Southern offense to just 35 percent shooting in the first half. On the offensive end, App State was red-hot, shooting 53 percent with 26 paint points.

The Eagles started hot in the second half and cut the lead down to four early in the final frame as Eren Banks sunk a three. The Mountaineers and Gregory answered Georgia Southern’s start with a basket to push him over the 1,500-point threshold early in the half. He is just the 12th player in program history to eclipse 1,500 career points.

A Malik Tidwell basket trimmed the lead back down to four by the 15-minute mark, but again it was Gregory who scored a basket to calm Georgia Southern’s run. App State went back ahead by eight by the under-12 break, using baskets by Abson and Terence Harcum to take command.

Tyren Moore started to catch fire as play progressed as he hit a three to cut the Mountaineer lead down to three right before the under-eight stoppage. The Eagles would take a three-point lead courtesy of a fastbreak layup, giving them their first lead of the game at the 5:47 mark of the final half.

Now trailing for the first time, App State went to work at the free-throw line where they shot 23-27 for the game. Harcum and Gregory each hit a pair as the Mountaineers reclaimed the lead by the last media timeout.

The two teams jostled for the lead as play continued down the stretch, changing hands a total of three times in the final four minutes. Spillers hit a tough shot to propel App State ahead by one and Gregory hit another pair of free throws to push the Mountaineers ahead by two with 1:45 to play.

Georgia Southern’s defense stole an errant pass late in the game and free throws by Eugene Brown pushed them ahead by two with just over a minute to play. After the Mountaineers tied the game again at 72, Moore got loose at the top of the key and hit a floater to give Georgia Southern the advantage with 39 seconds in regulation.

After a timeout, App State took the ball into the front court and drew up a play for Harcum who got fouled as he was driving to the basket. He calmly sunk the pair of free throws to tie the game. Kerns called a timeout to set up his defense, which resulted in a highly contested jumper from Moore that fell off the rim as the horn sounded. For the second straight game between the Mountaineers and Eagles, an extra five minutes would be needed to decide a winner.

App State took control early in the overtime period, scoring the first four points to jump ahead. Georgia Southern scored its first basket to trim the deficit to two, but a huge play by Brown sent the Mountaineers back ahead by four as he slammed home a missed shot to ignite the Mountaineer bench.

The Eagles cut the lead back to three, but a huge rebound by Harcum with two seconds to play sent him back to the line where he sealed the deal with two free throws and closed the book on a thrilling quarterfinal matchup.

Four Mountaineers eclipsed double figures against the Eagles, but when App State needed a basket, it turned to its fifth-year guard Donovan Gregory who delivered time and time again. His 22 points fell just two shy of a career-high as he shot 6-11 from the field and an impressive 10-10 from the line. Justin Abson played big-time minutes in the win as his defensive presence led him to seven blocked shots and several more altered shots. He ended the game with a double-double while also recording four assists. Terence Harcum knocked down multiple free throws late and helped seal the deal in the win as he tallied 13 points.

App State will play again Sunday against Arkansas State at 5 p.m. CT (6 p.m. ET) in the Sun Belt Tournament semifinals. It’s App State’s third semifinal appearance in the last three years. Tomorrow’s game can be streamed on ESPN+.