The North Carolina High School Athletic Association released the brackets for the 2023-2024 basketball playoffs.…
For the second time this season – and ever – at the Holmes Center, the App State Mountaineers took the floor for a nationally televised bout and won. This time, the Mountaineers completed the season sweep of James Madison, winning 82-76. The arena reached as loud as 106 decibels and the crowd played a major factor on Saturday.
With the win, App State (17-4, 8-1 SBC) completed an undefeated four-game home stand and are now 10-0 at the Holmes Center. It is the first time since 2002-03 that App State has won its first 10 home games to open a season. A crowd of 8,052 people showed up to watch the Mountaineers take down the Dukes (18-3, 6-3 SBC), marking the largest crowd at the Holmes Convocation Center since Jan. 12, 2009, and the third-largest crowd to ever watch App State play at the Holmes Center.
Just like in Harrisonburg earlier this month, Justin Abson made his presence felt on the interior against James Madison as the sophomore tied the Mountaineer single-game record for blocks in a game with eight swats. Overall, the Mountaineer defense played a complete game, holding the Dukes below their season-average point tally of 85 while keeping the Dukes to just 42 percent shooting.
Strong free throw shooting down the stretch by the Mountaineers played a major role in securing the victory as the Black and Gold scored 30 points at the line on 40 attempts. Each of the last 15 points scored by App State came at the charity stripe, which included six from Tre’Von Spillers. In what has been a key storyline all season long, the Mountaineers showed up at the line when they needed it.
With fans waiting outside the building as much as three hours before tip, the Black and Gold paid off the anticipation immediately as Terence Harcum sunk a long two-pointer to kick things off and get the fans rocking 20 seconds into play. Harcum again sparked the crowd with a three just two minutes later to start the game with App State’s first five points.
Despite falling behind in the early stages of the game, Xavion Brown and Donovan Gregory made sure the lead never grew larger than four as they each made tough layups to give App State a lead going into the first media break. The Mountaineers led for all but 2:46 in the game.
Coming out of the break, App State immediately capitalized on poor shooting from the Dukes and jumped in front by eight points after a Christopher Mantis three. The Mountaineer defense blocked four JMU shot attempts during its 13-1 run, including three from Abson.
But an experienced James Madison team punched right back at the Mountaineers’ strong start and trimmed the lead to as low as two points by the under-eight break.
All season long, Coach Kerns’ team has shown the ability to punch back after its opponent makes a run, and the same thing happened against the Dukes as Harcum drilled a three, which sparked an 8-2 run to spring back in front by eight. The Mountaineer lead grew to 10 at the 4:52 mark thanks to a Myles Tate three.
Facing adversity, James Madison showed its resolve, fighting back to score eight of the next 11 points to trim the deficit to just five. But App State finished its strong first-half performance with the final four points to take an eight-point lead into the locker room. Gregory’s tip-in layup at the horn brought the crowd to its feet and sent the Mountaineers into halftime with a lead for the 15th time this season.
App State’s hot three-point shooting was the story of the first half as the Mountaineers nailed five of their nine attempts in the half while shooting 46 percent from the floor. Harcum paced the Mountaineer offense in the first frame with 10 points, but Abson’s defense stole the show as he blocked five Duke shots. As a team, App State sent away eight shots, which was already more than its season-average.
After an entertaining halftime act, Xavion Brown continued the show against James Madison, sinking a layup to push App State ahead by 10 just 20 seconds into the period. A minute later, Brown netted another close shot to give him eight points, which is his highest-scoring game against a DI opponent this season.
Terence Edwards and the Dukes didn’t let Brown and the Mountaineers stop them from making a run as the lead shrank to six by the first media break of the second half. Edwards finished the game with 25 points.
With the game at its closest point of the early stages of the final frame, the Mountaineers sparked another run to jump in front by double-digits again. This time, it was CJ Huntley who brought the crowd to its feet as he slammed down a ferocious alley-oop jam off a pretty feed from Myles Tate. Two minutes later, Tre’Von Spillers’ effort on the offensive glass paid off with his own two-handed slam as the lead grew to 11.
While Abson’s defensive performance was noteworthy, the entire team played its role perfectly on the defensive side as three different players tallied two blocks. Spillers’ perimeter defense on Raekwon Horton resulted in a blocked three-point attempt, which led to a Mantis three to extend the lead to 12, which blew the roof off the sold-out Holmes Center. Mantis’ minutes against James Madison were huge when the starters needed rest as he tallied eight points in just 14 minutes.
The Mountaineers maintained their double-digit lead through the middle-eight minutes of the final frame as the two teams traded baskets. After a T.J. Bickerstaff free throw trimmed the Mountaineer lead back to 10, the defense made a play again with Gregory swiping the ball away from Bickerstaff and dishing to Spillers who flushed home a slam.
App State maintained its lead as play neared the last media timeout of the second half as every guy continued to contribute on the offensive end. The Holmes Center roared to its loudest point of the night, however, just before the under-four break after a Julien Wooden missed shot led to a long outlet pass from Gregory to Spillers who raced to slam the ball through the net to give App State a 12-point lead. The crowd roared to as loud as 105 decibels after Spillers’ emphatic dunk.
JMU began to find its offensive footing down the stretch as the Dukes scored 23 points over the final four minutes to push the Mountaineers’ poise. However, when the team needed it most, every player who stepped to the free-throw line remained calm and delivered App State to its second victory in front of a national audience. Each of the last 15 points for the Mountaineers were scored at the line.
With the win, the Mountaineers moved to 17-4, which is the most wins by App State through the first 21 games of a season since Tom Apke’s squad won 17 of its first 21 games in 1988-89. The Mountaineers also surpassed last season’s win total on Saturday. App State needs just three more wins to cement the most wins in a season since Kerns took over.
Four players for App State reached double-figures against James Madison, including the fourth 20-point game this season for Spillers. Spillers’ nine free throws in the game helped seal the win. Despite only scoring three points, Justin Abson’s historic defensive night proved to be a difference-maker as he swatted away eight shots, grabbed 11 rebounds and altered several more shots. Both Terence Harcum and Donovan Gregory finished with 14 points, and each provided ground-shaking moments in the game. Gregory’s six assists, five rebounds, two blocks and three steals helped punctuate the season sweep of JMU.
App State will hit the road in its next game, marking the first road game since beating James Madison on Jan. 13. The Mountaineers will head to Atlanta to take on the Georgia State Panthers for the second time this season. Tipoff is slated for Thursday at 7 p.m. and can be streamed on ESPN+.