CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - The first two tickets from North Carolina to the NCAA tournament have been punched, and no one saw the second team coming.
Moments after conference favorite UNC Greensboro topped Mercer for the SoCon championship, fourth-seeded Appalachian State upset top-seed Georgia State, 80-73, on Monday night to win Sun Belt tournament. The win secures the first trip to the NCAA tournament for the Mountaineers (17-11) since 2000.
It will be only the school’s third all-time trip to the big dance, and the Mountaineers have Michael Almonacy to thank. The graduate transfer from Southern New Hampshire University had the best game of his torrid tournament, dropping in six 3-pointers and a career-high 32 points to lead Appalachian State, which trailed by a pair at the half, but used steady offense and lock-down defense to shock Georgia State.
Almonacy was 10-of-18 from the field overall, 6-of-10 from three and 6-of-9 from the free-throw line. He also added seven rebounds.
Adrian Delph was a perfect complement to Almonacy, adding 22 points on 8-for-19 shooting, while Justin Forrest added 15. Donovan Gregory led the Mountaineers with 10 boards, a statistic in which Appalachian State held a slim 39-36 margin over Georgia State.
The Mountaineers led by as many as 14 with 4:43 to play, but Georgia State wouldn’t go away. The top-seeded Panthers pulled to within four with 1:05 to play on a Kane Williams basket inside, but the Mountaineers hit their free throws down the stretch to stretch the lead back out.
Williams led the Panthers with 18 points and eight boards. Evan Johnson added 14, while Justin Roberts and Ryan Boyce had 11 each in the loss.
The win caps a stellar run through the Sun Belt Tournament for Appalachian State, which upended Little Rock on Friday, Texas State in OT on Saturday, and Coastal Carolina in OT on Sunday. Monday night’s seven-point win over No. 1 Georgia State represented the Mountaineers’ largest margin of victory of the tournament in which they played a higher seed in each of their four games.
Meanwhile, in the SoCon Championship, UNC Greensboro avoided the upsets all tourney long to secure its bid to the NCAA Tournament with a 69-61 win over No. 7 Mercer, which had knocked out No. 2 Wofford in a quarterfinal on Saturday.
In Monday’s title game, UNC Greensboro flexed its depth, with nine different players scoring at least a point. Isaiah Miller led the way for the Spartans with a cool 25 points on 10-for-20 shooting. He also led all players in rebounds with 12. Keyshaun Langley added 15 for UNC Greensboro, which will be making its fourth NCAA Tournament appearance.
Leon Ayers III and James Glisson III led Mercer with 16 points each.
Both Appalachian State and UNC Greensboro will be looking for their first NCAA Tournament victories later this month. The Mountaineers first made the show in 1979, and most recently in 2000.
UNC Greensboro was a No. 15 seed in 1996 in its first tourney appearance, a No. 16 seed in 2001 and a No. 13 seed in 2018, when the Spartans put a scare into No. 4 Gonzaga before falling by four points, 68-64.