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Dustin Kerns
Dustin Kerns was named Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year after leading the Appalachian State men's basketball team to their first conference title in 45 years.
photo courtesy of Appalachian State Athletics

Five App State Men’s Basketball Players Earn All-Conference, Kerns Named Coach of the Year

After a record-breaking regular season for App State Men’s Basketball, five Mountaineers were honored by the Sun Belt Conference as the league announced its All-Sun Belt awards Monday.

Dustin Kerns was named Sun Belt Coach of the Year, Justin Abson was named Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year, and App State had three All-Sun Belt selections, including two first-team picks. Donovan Gregory and Tre’Von Spillers each earned All-Sun Belt first-team recognition, while Terence Harcum was named to the All-Sun Belt third team.

Having five members of the program honored is a high for the Mountaineers as a member of the Sun Belt, while the three All-Sun Belt selections is tied for the most in the Kerns era.

In his fifth season at the helm of the program, Kerns has guided the Mountaineers to their first outright conference title since 1979, a program-record 26 wins and the first undefeated season at home in the Division I era.

The 16-2 record in Sun Belt play marked the highest winning percentage in league play in program history, and Kerns led the Mountaineers to eight wins over teams ranked in the top 150 of the NET rankings, including a Dec. 3 win over Auburn that remains the best NET and KenPom win by a Sun Belt Conference team this year. App State is the only Division I team that is undefeated in Quad 1 and Quad 2 games

App State’s three All-Sun Belt selections tied James Madison and Louisiana for the highest total in the league. The two first-team selections for the Mountaineers mark the first time that App State has had multiple All-Sun Belt first-team honorees and the first time two Mountaineers have been all-conference first-team selections since Marshall Phillips and Tyson Patterson were both recognized in 1999.

Kerns is App State’s first conference coach of the year honoree since Houston Fancher took home the award in 2003.

“I have always felt like this award should be renamed to the ‘Coaching Staff of the Year,’ ” Kerns said. “I share this recognition with Frank Young, Bob Szorc, Tanner Smith, Bradley Fey, Raheem Martin and our players. All the credit goes to our entire group of players and coaches and their relentless hard work to give their all for App State.”

Abson is App State’s first Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year and the program’s first conference defensive player of the year since Nathan Healy won the SoCon honor in 2013.

Abson has been a defensive force for a title-winning team that ranked first in the Sun Belt during the regular season in scoring defense, blocks, blocks per game, opponent field-goal percentage and defensive efficiency. The Mountaineers were also first in the country in blocks per game and fourth in both field-goal percentage defense and fewest fouls per game.

Abson’s program-record 87 blocks is currently the third-highest total in Division I this season, while his 2.81 blocks-per-game average ranks fifth in the country. His 87 blocks led the Sun Belt by 18 during the regular season, and his 2.81 blocks-per-game mark would be a program record.

The sophomore has posted five games this season with at least six blocks, which is more than any other player in the country. He currently holds the three highest single-game block tallies in the Sun Belt, which includes his record-tying eight-block performance on Jan. 27 against James Madison at the Holmes Center.

“Justin earned this and I’m so happy for him, Kerns said. ” He’s one of the top guys in the entire country and certainly the Sun Belt in several defensive categories. He has put a lot of work in and it’s great seeing that work earn recognition.”

Gregory earned his second consecutive All-Sun Belt award as he continued to stamp his name across the App State record book in his fifth year at App State. This season, he became the 18th player in program history to eclipse 1,400 career points while also jumping into the top 15 in career points. He is the only active player in the Sun Belt and one of four active Division 1 players with career totals of at least 1,450 points, 675 rebounds, 400 assists and 175 steals entering the Sun Belt Tournament.

Gregory became the all-time winningest player in program history in early January and has played in 88 career wins as of Friday’s victory against Arkansas State. He scored a career-high 24 points against Toledo, with 18 of those points coming in the second half, and also hit the game-winning shot in overtime at Georgia Southern. He played a major factor in App State’s wins over Auburn and James Madison, scoring a combined 33 points in those games.

“I’m so excited and proud of Donovan,” Kerns said. “He earned this recognition with his play and leadership. All his hard work on the court and in the weight room paid off. Being a first team selection in this league is hard to do and he certainly earned it.”

In his first year in the High Country, Spillers has made an immediate impact, as he leads the team in scoring, rebounding and field-goal percentage. He was one of four players in the conference to be in the top 15 in both points per game and rebounds per game during the regular season while also recording 10 double-doubles this season. That’s the most by a Mountaineer since Chad McClendon tallied 10 in the 1993-94 season

Spillers scored in double figures in all but four conference games, finishing as App State’s leading scorer in league play. He was efficient with his scoring, as he finished the regular season with the third-best field goal percentage in the conference and 21st-highest percentage in Division I.

“Tre’Von was consistent the whole season and was among the league leaders in many categories,” Kerns said. “He certainly earned first team All-Sun Belt honors and that is a huge honor. Really proud of the work he put in from the summer until now and it showed.”

Harcum garnered his first Sun Belt postseason award after averaging 13 points a game in league play, a number that ranked second on the team. His 3-point shooting set him apart, as he made 40 percent of his 3s in league play and was among the top performers in offensive rating and effective field-goal percentage.

Harcum’s second-half performances played a major role, as he helped App State come back from down nine at Georgia Southern on Feb. 3 with 22 second-half points and scored 18 second-half points at Old Dominion on Feb. 22.

Harcum finished as the team’s third-leading scorer throughout the regular season and is tied with Spillers for the most 20-point games by an App State player this season.

“Terence has worked so hard and trusted the process,” Kerns said. “He has had a great season so far and I’m so happy he received this very deserved recognition and accolade. I’m so proud of him and all the hard work he has put in the gym.”

App State turns its attention to its first game of the Sun Belt Tournament on Saturday, when it serve as the No. 1 seed in a conference tournament for the first time since 1979. The Mountaineers will play either Georgia Southern or South Alabama at 12:30 p.m. ET (11:30 a.m. CT). Every game leading up to the championship game can be streamed on ESPN+.

2023-24 Sun Belt Conference Men’s Basketball Postseason Awards

Joe Gottfried Coach of the Year
Dustin Kerns, App State

Player of the Year
Terrence Edwards Jr., James Madison

Defensive Player of the Year
Justin Abson, App State

Newcomer of the Year
T.J. Bickerstaff, James Madison

Freshman of the Year
Miles Rigsby, Troy

Sixth Man of the Year
Tayton Conerway, Troy

All-Sun Belt First Team
Terrence Edwards Jr., James Madison
Christyon Eugene, Troy
Caleb Fields, Arkansas State
Donovan Gregory, App State
Tre’Von Spillers, App State

All-Sun Belt Second Team
T.J. Bickerstaff, James Madison
Austin Crowley, Southern Miss
Chaunce Jenkins, Old Dominion
Kobe Julien, Louisiana
Tyren Moore, Georgia Southern

All-Sun Belt Third Team
John Ojiako, Coastal Carolina
Joe Charles, Louisiana
Noah Freidel, James Madison
Terence Harcum, App State
Hosana Kitenge, Louisiana
Nika Metskhvarishvili, ULM
Taryn Todd, Arkansas State

Ties were not broken.