So far in 2016-17, the Sun Belt has lived up to its #FunBelt slogan on social media, as it sure has been fun.
In non-conference play, several teams had the look of a top contender in the race for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. After a slow start, the UT-Arlington Mavericks look like the team to beat, while the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers are picking up steam at the right time.
Another team who caught the attention of fans everywhere, including us, is the Arkansas State Red Wolves. A road win over the Georgetown Hoyas highlighted a strong start to their season.
On Monday, the Red Wolves were looking to bounce back after a loss over the weekend in conference action. They went on the road to take on the Appalachian State Mountaineers, a team who was looking for their first Sun Belt win of the year.
The Mountaineers were looking to make a statement, and they came out of the gates on fire. The home side opened the game on a 12-0 run to get the home crowd into the game early.
While Arkansas State would fight back, and the game would be tight right to the final few minutes, the Mountaineers wouldn’t let the game slip away.
Ronshad Shabazz scored a game-high 18 points to lead Appalachian State to the 70-57 win over Arkansas State on Monday night.
Appalachian State held the Red Wolves without a point for almost five minutes, before Rashad Lindsey hit one of two free throws to get the Red Wolves on the board with 15:24 to play in the half.
The Red Wolves would claw their way back into the game, and took a slim 32-30 lead into the locker room.
In the second half, it was more of the same back-and-forth action that fans saw in the latter parts of the opening frame. A layup from Lindsey gave the Red Wolves a slim 39-38 lead with just over 13 minutes to play in the game.
That was the final time they would lead on the night.
An 8-2 run for the Mountaineers, highlighted by three pointers from Shabazz and Craig Hinton have Appalachian State a 46-41 advantage, one that they would build on as the rest of the game ticked away.
Arkansas State got to within five with under five minutes to play in the game, but Griffin Kinney got a layup to fall and Isaac Johnson completed a three-point play to put the Mountaineers up by 10 with two minutes left.
The Mountaineers used timely free throw shooting down the stretch to seal the deal, and come away with the 70-57 win over Arkansas State.
Ronshad Shabazz scored a game-high 18 points for the Mountaineers, while Emarius Logan chipped in with 12 points in the win.
Jahmiah Simmons scored a career-high 16 points off the bench to lead the way for Arkansas State, who shot just 35.2% (19-of-54) from the field in the loss.
The win snapped a three-game streak for the Appalachian State Mountaineers (6-9, 1-3). They will look to make it two straight victories when they return to the court on Saturday against the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers.
It was also the second straight loss in conference play for the Arkansas State Red Wolves (11-6, 2-2), who have sputtered lately after their hot start to the year. They will look to get back on the right track when they take on the Little Rock Trojans, also on Saturday.
– T. Bennett