Samford basketball: ‘Dogs' second-half rally falls short at Appalachian state

BOONE, N.C. --- The Samford basketball team fought back to within three points, 61-58, midway through the second half of Saturday's regular-season finale against the Appalachian State Mountaineers, but on Senior Day at the Holmes Center, the Mountaineers rallied to score 21 of the game's final 31 points for an 82-68 Southern Conference victory.

"Offensively, I thought that both teams played extremely well today," said Samford head coach Jimmy Tillette. "They were just able to do a better job than we were. Donald Sims is an outstanding player and Kellen Brand is very good also. We kept the ball out of (Isaac) Butts' hands as much as we could and they were able to knock down a lot of threes. It was their 3-point shooting that did us in today."

With the loss, Samford (11-19, 5-13 SoCon) concluded its 2010 regular season with a three-game losing streak. The Bulldogs will next be in action Friday as they begin play in the SoCon Tournament at the Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte, N.C.

Samford's seeding in next week's 2010 SoCon Tournament will not be decided until Monday night. Depending on Elon's game versus Davidson and UNC Greensboro's home contest against Georgia Southern, the Bulldogs could be listed anywhere from the No. 4 seed in the North Division to the No. 6 seed.

Appalachian State (20-11, 13-5 SoCon) extended its winning streak to four games Saturday. The Mountaineers claimed the SoCon's North Division this year and ended the regular season as winners of eight of their last nine games.

"They have a very good team and today they were able to shoot the ball extremely well from the arc," Tillette said. "They were 13-of-23 from 3-point range and it's hard to overcome that. Heading into last weekend, we were leading the conference in field-goal percentage defense, but the last three teams we've played have all shot the ball outstanding against us."

With 7:29 remaining in the second half, Samford's Andy King drained a deep 3-point basket from the right wing to trim Appalachian State's lead to 61-58. King's basket capped off a 7-0 run for the Bulldogs in which Bryan Friday banked home a six-foot jumper and Josh Davis scored on a turnaround layup.

Davis, Samford's junior sharpshooter from Lubbock, Texas, led the Bulldogs in scoring with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field. He was also able to connect on 3-of-6 of his attempts from 3-point range.

After King's 3-pointer trimmed the Mountaineers' lead to 61-58 with 7:29 to play, Appalachian State retaliated with a quick 8-0 run of its own to extend its advantage back to 69-58. The Mountaineers used a put-back layup from Josh Hunter and back-to-back 3-point baskets from Jeremi Booth and Donald Sims to regain its 11-point lead in a minute and 35 seconds.

"Offensively, we were able to do a good job for the most part, but then down the stretch things seemed to go wrong in bunches," said Tillette. "That has been our problem this year and it always seems to happen in the second half. Late in the game, we missed two free throws, we had a couple of turnovers and then we took a bad shot. That's been our difficulty and our demon as a team this season."

Appalachian State was able to capitalize off of some late Samford miscues and outscored the Bulldogs 21-10 in the final 7:29 of the game.

With Saturday's victory, the Mountaineers improved their all-time record against Samford to 2-2. Last season, the Bulldogs swept the annual home-and-home series between the teams, while Appalachian State returned the favor this year.

Sims, the Mountaineers' point guard who is leading the SoCon in scoring this season, paced Appalachian State with 25 points on an 8-of-14 performance from the field. He also knocked down 6-of-9 attempts from 3-point range.

Kellen Brand added 18 points, eight assists and five rebounds for the Mountaineers, while Booth chipped in with 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field. Booth, Appalachian State's junior from Altavista, Va., turned in a 4-of-6 performance from 3-point range as the Mountaineers shot a sizzling 56.5 percent (13-of-23) from beyond the arc.

"Both teams shot the ball really well today," Tillette said. "We tried to defend their outside shooting and they tried to defend ours as well. Both teams changed defenses to try to get the offensive team out of rhythm and I don't think any of that really worked. Obviously, they are a better offensive rebounding team than we are so they had a lot more opportunities for second shots."

Samford shot 55.8 percent from the field Saturday, but was out-rebounded 29-17. Appalachian State also dominated the offensive boards and tallied nine offensive rebounds compared to two for the Bulldogs.

Kaylin Johson, Samford's speedy guard from Baton Rouge, La., played well for the Bulldogs and finished with 11 points, three assists and a steal. He turned in a 4-for-5 shooting performance from the field and a 3-for-4 outing from beyond the arc. Jeffrey Merritt added 10 points and connected on 4-of-7 attempts from the floor.

Despite trailing by as many as 14 points in the first half, Samford rallied late in the period and fought back within 41-38 at the intermission. Following a 3-point basket from Booth at the 3:59 mark, Appalachian State held a 38-24 advantage in the game.

Booth's 3-pointer from the right wing capped off a 12-2 run for the Mountaineers and gave Appalachian State its largest lead of the first half.

On the Bulldogs' ensuing possession, Johnson knocked down a 3-point field goal from the left flank which ignited Samford's 14-3 run to close the first half. During the Bulldogs' late scoring outburst, Davis and Merritt connected on back-to-back 3-pointers, while Johnson and Matthew Friday both scored on driving layups. Senior Trey Montgomery also added a free throw as the final point of the half.

After Ryann Abraham's 3-pointer with 3:22 remaining in the first period, Samford scored the final 11 points of the half.

Sims led all scorers with 14 first-period points, while Brand added eight for Appalachian State. Samford was led in scoring by Merritt's 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field in the first half, while Johnson added eight points on a perfect 3-for-3 outing. Davis also scored eight points in the first half of play Saturday.

Both teams shot the ball well in the first half and combined to shoot 56 percent from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes of play. Samford led the way with a 58.3-percent performance (7-of-12) from 3-point range in the first half, while Appalachian State added a 7-of-13 (53.8 percent) outing from long range.

The Samford University basketball team will next be in action Friday as the Bulldogs begin play in the 2010 SoCon Tournament being held at Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte, N.C. Samford's opponent and game time won't be determined until the conclusion of the regular season Monday.