College basketball: Appalachian State, UNCG clinch NCAA tournament bids
Michael Almonacy scored a career-high 32 points with six 3-pointers and Appalachian State upset two-time defending champion Georgia State 80-73 on Monday night to win the Sun Belt Conference championship and return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000.
It was an improbable run for fourth-seeded Appalachian State (17-11), which lost six of its final seven regular-season games before winning four games in four nights — including two in overtime. The Mountaineers didn’t win four straight during the regular season and last won four-straight league games in 2015.
Appalachian State was just 7-8 in conference play this season with two wins in three attempts against league championship Georgia State. And Almonacy was in his first year with the program after playing for Division II-member Southern New Hampshire last season.
App State’s senior point guard Justin Forrest made four free throws on consecutive possessions for a 71-60 lead with 1:51 left. But he had to leave the court at 1:16 after getting injured going for a loose ball, and Appalachian State struggled to beat Georgia State’s press.
Almonacy made two free throws at 53.8 to snap Georgia State’s 7-0 run for a six-point lead, and the Mountaineers hung on despite Almonacy’s 3-pointer at 4:43 being their final field goal.
Adrian Delph added 22 points, Forrest finished with 15 and Donovan Gregory grabbed 10 rebounds for Appalachian State.
Kane Williams had 18 points and eight rebounds for Georgia State (16-6). Evan Johnson added 14 points, and Justin Roberts and Ryan Boyce each scored 11. bounds. Corey Allen, a Detroit Mercy transfer averaging a team-high 15.2 points, was held to nine points on 3-of-12 shooting.
Almonacy scored 16 points in the first half and Delph added 13, but Appalachian State trailed 37-35 as their teammate were just 3-of-11 shooting.
Almonacy, who entered averaging 12.1 points, scored 13 points against Arkansas-Little Rock in a tournament opener followed by 23 and 19 points.
Isaiah Miller scored 25 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and had six assists as top-seeded UNC Greensboro earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament with a 69-61 win over seventh-seeded Mercer on Monday night in the Southern Conference championship.
Tied with less than four minutes to play, Miller scored six points in an 8-0 run for the game’s largest lead at 66-58 with 1:15 to play. But the Spartans struggled from the foul line, which kept the Bears alive, especially after Leon Ayers III made three free throws with 1:08 remaining.
Miller made 5 of 13 free throws and UNCG was 13 of 26, including six misses in the last 1:15. However, the Bears missed their last seven shots from the field.
Keyshaun Langley added 15 points for UNCG (21-8), which was in its sixth championship game and the fourth in five years. The Spartans will got to their fourth NCAA Tournament.
Ayers and James Glisson III each scored 16 points for Mercer (18-11), which was bidding to become the first SoCon team to win four games in four days since the 1939 tourney. Felipe Haase added 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
The Bears were in the title game for the first time since joining in 2015. They won the Atlantic Sun Conference championship in 2014 and went on to upset Duke as a 14-seed in the NCAAs.
Miller, the two-time SoCon player of the year and the first in history to also be the defensive POY both seasons, scored 16 points in the second half.
Neither team led by more than three points in the first half, which ended with Greensboro on top 37-36 after nine ties and eight lead changes.
Mercer’s last lead was 53-52 on a Glisson dunk at the 6:20 mark and Neftali Alvarez hit the jumper that tied the game at 58 with 3:40 to go.
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