Appalachian State Heads to Samford for Key North Division Clash Saturday

John HooperCorrespondent IIJanuary 18, 2013

Appalachian State Holds A 5-3 All-Time Series Edge Against Samford
Appalachian State Holds A 5-3 All-Time Series Edge Against Samford

Appalachian State (7-9, 3-2 SoCon) at Samford (6-12, 4-1 SoCon)

Jan. 19, 2013, 8:00 p.m. (EST)

Birmingham, AL., Pete Hanna Center (5,000)

Preview: Appalachian State heads to Samford for a key Southern Conference North Division clash on Saturday night at the Pete Hanna Center.

The Mountaineers had their five-game winning streak come to an end in heartbreaking fashion on Thursday night. They blew a 19-point lead with a little less than seven minutes to play, allowing Chattanooga to come back and tie the game to send the game to overtime. Eventually, Chattanooga ended up with an important 91-88 North Division win on Thursday night.

Samford on the other hand, remained hot on Thursday night. The Bulldogs posted a third-straight win with a narrow 64-60 win over Western Carolina to take full possession of the lead in the North Division standings. 

Saturday night's meeting between the Mountaineers and Bulldogs will mark the ninth all-time meeting between the Mountaineers and Bulldogs, with ASU leading the all-time series 5-3. An early February win by Samford in Boone last season snapped a five-game losing streak to the Mountaineers. 

Samford's current three-game winning streak is its longest win streak since Dec. of 2010, when the Bulldogs earned consecutive non-conference wins against UT-Arlington, Asbury University and UTSA. 

Samford coach Bennie Seltzer is making an early bid for SoCon Coach of the Year honors in his first season in the Magic City since taking over for Jimmy Tillette. Seltzer has had some help, however, and that help has come in the form of the league's top freshman performer, in Tim Williams (14.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG).

The 6'8" freshman forward comes into Saturday's contest ranking 64th nationally in field-goal percentage this season, as he is connecting on 52.9-percent from the field percentage. His 1.4 blocks-per-game ranks him fourth in the SoCon, and his four double-doubles this season ranks second in the league in that category. In the win over Western Carolina, Williams produced one of those double-double performances, with 16 points and 10 boards.

Williams will be joined in the starting lineup in the low-post by another freshman, in Clide Geffrard Jr. (9.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG), and he is certainly having a strong season in his own right. Geffrard is another solid athletic presence in the paint for the Bulldogs. Geffrard has had some superlative performances this season, including a season-high 24 points against Toledo, as well as 22 points in a 69-65 win at The Citadel.

Samford starts a trio of solid performers in its backcourt, led by Raijon Kelly (14.6 PPG, 3.8 APG), who is having a sensational sophomore season, and he will team in the starting rotation with both Will Cook (3.7 PPG, 2.6 RPG) and Connor Miler (7.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG) on Saturday night. 

Kelly, who is coming off a season which saw him garner SoCon All-Freshman honors, is certainly following up on that rookie season with a season that is worthy of All-SoCon praise. Kelly was namedSoCon Player of the Week after the Bulldogs swept through Charleston with wins over College of Charleston and The Citadel, averaging 15.5 PPG, 5.5 APG for the week. He had 10 points and six assists in the win over Western Carolina.

Cook is in his third year in the Samford basketball program, having put together a solid junior season. He's not a prolific scorer, but he gives the Bulldogs a veteran, athletic presence in the backcourt. Miller can be a prolific scorer with his ability to shoot from the perimeter, as he comes into Saturday night's contest with 11 triples on the season, ranking second on the team.

Off the bench, the Bulldogs will look to both reserve point guard Russell Wilson (3.0 PPG, 2.5 RPG) and sophomore forward Tyler Hood (7.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG) to provide key minutes. Both had quality appearances off the bench the last time out against the Catamounts, with Hood totaling eight points off the bench, while Wilson contributed eight points and three steals off the bench in the win over WCU. 

Appalachian State will be looking to rebound from a heartbreaking 91-88 overtime loss to Chattanooga on Thursday night in the Scenic City, surrendering a 19-point lead with a little under seven minutes to play. 

The Mountaineers have been one of the most explosive offensive teams in the league this season, and much of that potency has to do with the Mountaineers' backcourt, especially with the return of Mike Neal (10.0 PPG, 2.5 RPG) to the point guard position. Neal has led the Mountaineers to six wins in their last eight outings since his return to the lineup. He had six points and seven assists in the loss to Chattanooga on Thursday night.

Neal will be joined in that backcourt by Tab Hamilton (10.9 PPG, 2.7 RPG), who is coming off a strong performance against Chattanooga on Thursday night. Hamilton had 21 points against the Mocs, which included going 5-of-6 from three-point range in the loss. Hamilton's 31 triples leads the team so far this season. 

Nathan Healy (14.8 PPG, 7.1 RPG) and Jay Canty (15.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG) are both having solid seasons, with both coming into Saturday night's action against the Bulldogs averaging in double figures. In fact, Canty's 15.5 PPG ranks him as the league's fifth-leading scorer and the Xavier transfer has been the league's top newcomer to this point in the season. It will be an intriguing matchup to see Canty go against Samford's Williams on Saturday night.  

Healy led the Mountaineers with 22 points the last time out against the Mocs, also posting 10 boards to complete the double-double effort. Healy and Canty combined for 41 points and 16 boards in the loss to the Mocs. Healy's 29 triples ranks him second on the team in made three-pointers this season. Healy and Canty will team with Michael Obacha (3.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG) to round out the starting five for the Black and Gold on Saturday night. 

The Mountaineers may be getting better bench production than any team in the SoCon this season, and one of the biggest reasons for that production has been Tevin Baskin (10.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG). The 6'6" forward is coming off of an 11-point performance in the loss at Chattanooga, and has now scored in double figures in eight-straight games for the Mountaineers. Baskin teams with reserve guards Chris Burgess (3.5 PPG, 1.3 RPG) and Jamaal Trice (6.7 PPG, 2.2 RPG) off the bench to give ASU possibly the top bench in the league. 

This is a crucial game for ASU, and it meets up with a Samford basketball team that has been playing some of the best basketball in the league as of late. Look for ASU to make things real interesting in the North Division by getting a win at Samford on Saturday night.

Final Score Prediction: Appalachian State 81, Samford 77