PENSACOLA, Fla. — 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 champion 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 points 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. 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 teammates 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.