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CJ Huntley
CJ Huntley had 16 points for Appalachian State.
photo courtesy of Appalachian State Athletics

Appalachian State Men’s Basketball Bows Out of NIT With Loss to Wake Forest

Despite cutting a 13-point first-half lead to just one point in the early stages of the second half, the App State Mountaineers fell in their NIT first-round meeting with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons 87-76 on Wednesday, cutting a historic season short.

App State (27-7) broke numerous program records in 2023-24, setting the all-time wins record with 27, shattering the Holmes Center regular-season attendance record and winning the outright regular-season conference championship for the first time in 45 years. The Mountaineers suffered just five regular-season losses, marking the fewest in program history.

A slow offensive start allowed Wake Forest (21-13) to jump ahead on their home floor. The Mountaineers made just one three in the first half of a fiery contest and despite making six in the second half, the deficit was too much to overcome.

The Mountaineers showed their depth once again as five different players reached double figures in the game with CJ Huntley leading the way with 16 off the bench. In his third postseason appearance in his five-year career, Donovan Gregory tallied 10 points and two assists, closing his legendary career with 1,531 points and 409 assists.

Wake Forest jumped out to a 7-2 lead early, but a CJ Huntley three from the right wing brought the raucous App State faithful that made the trip down the Mountain to their feet. Despite the three, the Demon Deacons scored eight of the next 10 points to jump ahead by seven at the 13:43 mark.

App State trimmed the lead back to just four by the under-12 timeout, using a pair of tough baskets by Tre’Von Spillers, whose energy on the offensive side led to him scoring 10 of the first 13 Mountaineer points. A driving layup from Terence Harcum trimmed the lead to just two out of the timeout as App State found its offensive footing.

Even after receiving a punch, the Demon Deacons scored the next seven points to jump back ahead by nine. The Mountaineers’ shooting woes plagued them throughout the first frame as they missed six straight shots during Wake Forest’s run.

The deficit grew to 13 by the 7:13 mark in the first half as the Demon Deacons forced their hand. Then, Jordan Marsh entered the game and immediately sparked the App State bench as App State worked its way back to a nine-point deficit by the last media break of the first half.

Marsh continued to put his stamp on the first half, scoring each of the next six Mountaineer points to cut the lead back to seven. Marsh scored eight points in his eight first-half minutes. But a Cameron Hildreth bucket with 32 seconds to play pushed Wake Forest back ahead by nine as the first-half horn sounded.

Spillers and Marsh played a huge role in keeping the Mountaineers in the game in the opening frame as they combined for 18 points on 9-12 shooting. Spillers was everywhere to open the game, tallying 10 points and seven rebounds. Six players recorded a point in the first half.

Using the halftime break, the Mountaineers found their offense to open the second half, scoring seven quick points before the first media break. The ball whipped around through the paint, which led to a Justin Abson layup to start the frame.

The Demon Deacons jumped back ahead by 10 out of the break, but a hearty Mountaineer spurt trimmed the deficit down to just one as a Harcum transition three ignited the crowd. App State started the second half by making seven of its first nine field-goal attempts.

CJ Huntley’s wing three continued the momentum heading into the under-14 break, but Wake Forest immediately quieted the crowd by scoring seven of the next nine points to jump back in front by nine. The Demon Deacons sunk three shots in a row and used a pair of free throws to propel themselves ahead.

Myles Tate’s three at the 8:57 mark trimmed the Wake Forest lead back to just five, forcing a timeout from Wake Forest head coach Steve Forbes. The break allowed the Demon Deacons to settle into their offense as they scored 11 straight points to build their lead up to a game-high 16 by the 5:52 mark.

Not done yet, the Mountaineers drilled four shots in a row as they worked the game back within single digits with just under two minutes to play. Despite the run, the Demon Deacons’ solid free-throw shooting led to them closing out an 11-point win on their home floor.

As has been the storyline all season, the Mountaineer depth shined on Wednesday as five players eclipsed double figures. CJ Huntley’s 16 points on an efficient 7-10 shooting paced the Mountaineer offensive attack. His 16 points were the most he has scored in a game since scoring a career-high 22 on Dec. 13. Terence Harcum’s three-point shooting in the second half helped spark an App State run that trimmed the deficit to one point as he scored 14 points in the game. Tre’Von Spillers’ 12th double-double of the season capped off his stellar first season in the High Country. His 12 double-doubles are the most by a Mountaineer in a season since Charles Payton recorded 14 in 1980-81.