As I furiously heated up a sauce pan of tomato soup, my son provided a monotonic update of the Red Wolves/Mountaineers game from the living room couch.
“Missed another layup,” he said. Half a minute late, “Missed another layup.”
As the Mountaineers cheerful announcers reminded us often, the Red Wolves had plenty of opportunities to get back into the game, twice returning from 14-point deficits to threaten a lead takeover. But the layups simply weren’t falling, and neither were the majority of threes (8/23). Even the vaunted Red Wolves free-throw shooting struggled – just 50% made.
If the Mountaineers’ mission was to neutralize Norchad Omier, then the mission was accomplished. Omier was reduced to the near minimum of his double-double powers, with 11 points and 10 hard-fought boards. Marquis Eaton provided a spark at times, nailing three threes, but the rest of the team struggled to find their shots against the conference’s stingiest defense.
The Mountaineers twin tower forwards, James Lewis and CJ Huntley, provided the intimidation in the paint while entertaining the zesty, pajama-clad student section with an occasional slam dunk. Justin Forrest, who murdered the Red Wolves last meeting, was just as unmerciful on Thursday, deflating the Red Wolves first-half comeback with a clutch three-pointer.
The Mountaineers defense is unquestionably the stoutest in the Sun Belt, but the Red Wolves seemed both tight and sluggish, with a number of long range jumpers falling comically short of the mark. Malcom Farrington and Avery Felts delivered solid production off the bench, but they were the only two subs to see action – a rather strange tactic for Mike Balado, who likes to insert a larger number of guys.
By the end of the evening, the Red Wolves sunk from first in the Sun Belt to 1.5 games behind the 7-2 Mountaineers. Arkansas State returns to sea level when they face a sturdy Coastal Carolina tam on Saturday (noon CST).
Photo Credit: David Jensen