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Justin Abson
Justin Abson came three blocks shy of a triple-double with a season-high 15 points, a career-high 16 rebounds and seven blocks.
photo courtesy of Appalachian State Athletics

Huge Second Half Propels Appalachian State Men’s Basketball to Win

With the game tied at 30 heading into the halftime break in Atlanta on Thursday, A Terence Harcum three-pointer just 67 seconds into the second half sparked a 10-2 run through the first three minutes to give App State an eight-point lead. After Harcum’s three, the Mountaineers scored 51 second-half points and outscored Georgia State by 10 to cruise to an 81-71 win by the final horn.

Fresh off his eight-block performance against James Madison at the Holmes Center last Saturday, Justin Abson topped that performance against Georgia State (9-12, 4-6 SBC) with 15 points, a career-high 16 rebounds and seven more blocks. Abson’s 15-16-7 line marks the first time a player has done that in NCAA Division I since Morehead State’s Alex Gross posted 16 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocks against Tennessee-Martin just under a year ago. The sophomore now has 15 blocks in his last two games.

With the win, App State (18-4, 9-1 SBC) has the most wins in the first 22 games to start a season since the 1951-52 team won 18 of its first 22 games. It also marks the seventh consecutive win in Sun Belt Conference play, which sets the record for most Sun Belt wins in a row.

It was a sluggish first half for the Mountaineers, but regardless, the Mountaineers controlled the lead for much of the half and led by as much as nine points. Abson got his stellar night started early with a two-handed slam off a pretty Xavion Brown find to kick off the scoring.

After the first media break, Terence Harcum gave App State its first lead of the night, drilling a step-back jumper just outside the lane. But Leslie Nkereuwem, who finished with 13 points and seven rebounds, nailed a close shot in the lane to propel the Panthers back in front at the 15:17 mark.

Poor shooting plagued both teams in the first frame as neither team shot better than 35 percent. After Nkereuwem’s layup, both teams went on a scoring drought for the next three minutes. The Panthers missed six shots in a row while the Mountaineers missed 10 straight.

App State finally broke through its drought just after the under-12 media break with a dunk by Abson. Shortly after, Christopher Mantis drilled a two-pointer over an outstretched defender’s arm off an inbounds play while being fouled, which sparked an 8-2 run that fueled the Mountaineers ahead. Mantis provided a first-half spark as he scored six points in a row off the bench.

With the first half nearing its conclusion, the Mountaineers would jump ahead by their largest margin in the first half thanks to Tre’Von Spillers’ first points of the game and a thunderous slam by CJ Huntley to bring the App State bench to its feet. A few minutes later, Spillers wrangled up his own miss and sent a pass firing out to Huntley who drilled a three to spring App State ahead by seven at the final media break.

Despite a nice stretch in the middle eight minutes, App State struggled down the stretch while Georgia State caught fire. Down nine after a Spillers bucket, the Panthers closed the half on an 11-2 run to tie the game at 30 by the first-half horn. Four different players scored during the run but Dwon Odom’s floating jumper with just over a minute left tied things up.

Neither team found its footing on the offensive side in the first half as both teams shot less than 35 percent. However, App State’s tremendous defense did travel to Atlanta as they held a good-shooting Panther squad to just two made threes while blocking three shots.

A whole new Mountaineer team stepped out of the locker room against Georgia State as App State scored the first six points of the second half. Abson’s free throw and Harcum’s long three pushed the Mountaineers ahead and they never trailed after that.

Two minutes later, Abson got in the lane for a layup off a nice find by Brown and Donovan Gregory picked Odom’s pocket and raced to the other end for a slam, forcing a timeout by Jonas Hayes as App State led by eight.

The Mountaineer lead grew to its largest point at 12 by the under-16 break as both Harcum and Gregory notched buckets. A Lucas Taylor three would quell the hot Mountaineer start, but App State had stormed ahead, making five of its first seven shots in the second half.

In similar fashion to the entire season, when App State faced diversity against the Panthers, it immediately found an answer. On Thursday, it was Harcum who got things going when the game got close as he scored eight consecutive points over a 47-second stretch to account for 13 of App State’s 21 second-half points to that point. The Mountaineers led by 11 by the under-12 timeout thanks to Harcum.

Georgia State remained competitive on its home floor as it would never let its deficit get above 12 points in the first eight minutes. Taylor and Brenden Tucker helped cool the Mountaineers off as they each recorded buckets to trim the App State lead to eight at the 9:30 mark.

With the Panther lead at eight, Abson took over on the offensive side, commanding double teams, scoring baskets and sharing the ball effectively. Over the next two minutes, the sophomore was responsible for six of App State’s eight points. Abson’s beautiful feed to Spillers under the basket propelled the Mountaineers ahead by 11.

The Mountaineers continued to push the throttle as play continued, taking a commanding 17-point lead by the 4:35 mark that was fueled by a furious 10-4 run. The Mountaineer defense helped spark the run as Abson emphatically swatted away his seventh shot off the backboard which led to a Harcum three at the left wing for his 18th points.

Julian Mackey and the Panthers made it competitive down the stretch, but App State’s 51-point outburst was enough to seal a 10-point road win. The win over the Panthers marked the Mountaineers’ ninth Sun Belt win in its first 10 games, which ties the 1999-00 team for the most conference wins in the first 10 games in the last 30 years.

All nine Mountaineers scored against Georgia State, marking the 14th time this season that at least nine Mountaineers have scored in a game. Justin Abson’s historic performance stole the show as he tallied a season-high 15 points, a career-high 16 rebounds and seven blocks. His seven blocks on Thursday made it eight straight games with at least two blocks. Terence Harcum led all scorers with 22 points, with 20 of those 22 points coming in the second half. Harcum’s three just 67 seconds into the final frame helped kickstart the App State offense to the win. Tre’Von Spillers was the third Mountaineer in double-figures, tallying 13, marking his 18th game this season reaching double-figures.

App State will head approximately 209 miles Southeast to Statesboro, Ga., to take on the Georgia Southern Eagles for the second time this season on Saturday. It will be App State’s final game at Hanner Fieldhouse. Tipoff is set for 3 p.m. and can be streamed on ESPN+.