Asheville destroys Campbell

Well, that was fun to watch.

With the game tied up at 49 just into the second half, Asheville used a 19-2 run to pull ahead of the Campbell Camels, sweeping the regular season series 2-0 and moving to 11-1 in the conference.  The Bulldogs were led by Matt Dickey, who confirmed his preseason Big South player of the year status by scoring 31 points on 8-15 shooting.  He also had 7 steals.  That’s right.  7 steals.

Asheville effectively silenced a Big South Champion contender yesterday.  Campbell is still a major threat (and it’s hard to beat a team three times in one year) but the Bulldogs demonstrated that they have the athletic ability and basketball IQ to beat a larger team with quickness, agility, and smart play yesterday.  A TON of credit needs to go to Jeremy Atkinson, who notched another triple-double while providing valuable manuvering space inside.  Some of his layups were just incredible to watch.  Really, this is a team effort (despite the disparate scoring numbers) and everyone is finding their groove at this time of year, which is a good thing.

Asheville has won 10 of their past 11 games and is 11-1 in conference play. More importantly, Asheville solidified its hold on first place in conference standings, holding a 1.5 game lead over CCU and a 2.5 game lead over CSU.  The next three games (vs. VMI, Liberty, and Radford a.k.a. “The Commonwealth Contingent”) offer a huge opportunity for the Bulldogs to put some breathing room between themselves and Coastal/CSU/Campbell for the regular season title.  VMI is 6-5 but has yet to beat one of the top 4 teams in the conference, while Liberty and Radford are near the bottom of the conference standings.  Asheville should by no means rest on its laurels, but these games are games that the Bulldogs should be able to win, even if 2 of the 3 are on the road.

As a fellow alumnus pointed out to me this month, our Bulldogs are FUN to watch this year.  There’s a chemistry out there that demonstrates to me that this team wants to go to the tournament this year and win a few games.  Keep hitting the practices and the gym until then and enjoy this awesome run, guys.

 

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Saturday roundup – CSU, Presby, and Kimmelgate III

Where to begin?

Asheville lost a heartbreaker on Thursday night to Charleston Southern, snapping a 7 game win streak and dropping their conference record to 8-1. Asheville is still in 1st place in the conference, but both Campbell (7-2) and Coastal are lurking at 1 and 1.5 games behind apiece.

What happened on Thursday?  Asheville didn’t play to win, plain and simple. Granted, there was an amazing run to come from behind 14 points and put the Bulldogs in a position to win.  There was also a very questionable blocking call on Matt Dickey with time winding down that put CSU at the line to ice the game.  However, you can never blame close losses on officiating.  Asheville played like an NCAA team for less than half of Thursday’s game, something they can’t do if they want to dance again in March.

Today’s game at Presbyterian offers an opportunity to rebound (punny! hah) against a 2-6 team that, apart from a shocking upset against Cincinnati, has not put together a quality win against a good team this year.  Nonetheless, Asheville has to play smart, efficient basketball on both sides of the court regardless of who the team is.  Often, teams that play to their opponent’s level have a worse problem affecting them (see Tar Heels, North Carolina).  Asheville doesn’t have this problem right now, but the guys can’t let Thursday’s loss get them down.  Every team loses, and if you’re undefeated in conference you’re going to have that much bigger a target on your back.

In off-the-court news, Friday was a take-out-the-trash newsdump of information related to Kimmelgate.  The Citizen-Times ran three articles on the scenario.  The first, a profile of Matt Dickey’s father, conveyed the sentiment many alums, students, faculty, and fans feel: that the entire Kimmelgate saga has hurt the UNC Asheville basketball program.  Regardless of culpability, the fallout from UNC Asheville’s decision to host the SoCon women’s opening round has far outweighed any benefit the tournament might bring the university (distinct from benefits accruing to the City and the community).  It also hurts recruiting.  A recruit looking at UNC Asheville sees this mess and thinks that either:

a) the athletics department doesn’t care about men’s basketball enough to make their conference tournament a priority (a false impression, but one that can be reasonably inferred from the past week); or

b) the athletics department is incompetent and doesn’t know how to manage a story.

The other two news stories that broke on Friday lend credence to the latter theory.  One revealed that ESPN has not been contacted about rescheduling the game and would be open to rescheduling the game.  This is great news and increases the possibility that the Bulldogs, should they earn the right, will be able to play on their homecourt.  The other revealed that the Southern Conference was willing to acommodate the Bulldogs should the situation arise.

Sigh.

I’m very grateful for both ESPN’s and the SoCon’s understanding in this situation.  I especially appreciate the sentiment of the Southern Conference Commissioner, who effectively applied the Golden Rule of “do unto others” by stating that he would not want one of his member institutions put into this position by another conference.  It was a refreshing display of humanity and accommodation in a saga that has been, overall, very immature and childish.

So how does the scenario play out from here?  It’s all up to the BSC.  If the university’s appeal is approved, then the Bulldogs would either play in Justice or move the date of the championship game to Sunday/a different time on Saturday, depending on agreements between the two conferences and ESPN.  Everyone saves a little face and basically gets what they should’ve gotten in the first place.

That, though, is the larger point: this situation should have never happened in the first place.  A prominent UNCA alum emailed me and said something to the effect of: “What should we have told the SoCon – that you can use the arena, but there might be a small chance that the men’s team may have the opportunity to play the championship game the same day as the opening rounds and we need to plan for that?”  Well, yes.    Even if the format was up in the air, we should have made it clear that, if the tournament format stayed the same this year, that the University and the SoCon would have to make arrangements so that UNC Asheville could accommodate both parties.  These negotiations should have wrapped up long before this season started when the format for this season’s tournament was finalized, and it should have been Asheville going to the SoCon and saying, essentially, “we want to honor our agreement, but we want to give our men’s team the opportunity to play on their home court.” The SoCon commissioners are human beings, not heartless monsters, and would probably empathize with the University’s situation (and the negative publicity that would arise should this scenario become public).

Unfortunately, that’s not what happened now the University and both conferences have this mess to juggle along with the regular troubles associated with planning conference tournaments.  It’s a regrettable affair and while it looks like this will be resolved amicably it doesn’t change the fact that the University administration and the Big South badly bungled this entire situation.  It calls for a reevaluation on the part of the University about how it manages unfavorable news and how it prioritizes athletic events.  In both cases, the buck stops with Janet Cone, and she should formally apologize to the men’s basketball team and the University community for putting us through this process in the first place.

Asheville 88, Coastal Carolina 81

 

8-0 in conference.  7 game win streak.  But let’s not rest on our laurels.

Asheville faced a tough, vicious Coastal Carolina team tonight and pulled out a win by playing smart basketball and shooting almost perfectly from the foul line.

There were visceral joys to be found in tonight’s game, like resident punk Anthony Raffa’s two airballs, back-to-back-to-back threes by Chris Stephenson and JP Primm, and a balanced scoring attack that saw four Bulldogs in double figures.  Jeremy Atkinson notched yet another triple-double, proving yet again the value of this junior college transfer.

Coastal Carolina proved that they’re one of the best teams in the Conference, no doubt about it.  Jon Pack, who looked like he was auditioning for the part of a cave troll in one of the Lord of the Rings movies, was a dominating force in the paint with 14 points and 12 rebounds.  The Chanticleers demonstrated, like so many teams before them, that Asheville’s lack of size is a real weakness.

Fortunately, Asheville more than made up for that with smart play.  Doing things like drawing fouls on three-point shots (three times in the first half!) and taking charges down low from bigger players made the difference in this game.  Asheville also shot 93.9 percent from the charity stripe.  In the end, the emotional maturity of the senior players carried the day.

The crowd was a mixed bag, honestly.  The student section was loud, proud, and clad almost to a student in white as part of the #occupykimmel “white out” protest.  From what I heard, Janet Cone wore all black.  Great sense of humor, Ms. Cone!  On the other hand, there were not nearly as many seats filled as I would have like to have seen, which makes me think that ticket prices may need to fall next year.

Speaking of #occupykimmel, this win is another small step towards setting up a nightmare scenario where Asheville earns home-court advantage in the Big South tournament only to lose it as a result of the Administration’s failure to put their student-athletes first.  The next two games (vs. CSU on Thursday and at Presbyterian on Saturday) will go a long way towards determining whether this scenario will keep unfolding.  Tonight, though, Asheville should give themselves a pat on the back for going 8-0 in conference play for the first time in almost 15 years and get ready for two more games this week.

Note: WordPress (the site host) is going dark tomorrow as part of a protest against SOPA and PIPA, two bills currently in Congress that could lead to internet censorship. So if you try and link to this site tomorrow and see nothing, don’t panic.

Asheville 66, Gardner Webb 60

(Editor’s note: apologies for the late posting.  It’s final exam time and things are getting a bit hectic.  We should be back to normal by the 17th, if not earlier.)

Someone needs to tell the Asheville bulldogs that there are 20 minutes in the first half.  It certainly didn’t look that way last night, as the Bulldogs eeked out a six point win over Gardner Webb despite scoring only one point in the first eight minutes.

It was a game of runs as Asheville stormed back midway through the first half behind Jaron Lane and Chris Stephenson.   Lane continued to demonstrate his importance to the Bulldogs both this year and next, while Stephenson was one point short of a double double with 9 points and 12 rebounds.  Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm were their usual selves after the under-12 timeout, combining for 25 points.

This was not a pretty win, however, and the Bulldogs had to rely on their experience and grit to pull it out midway through the second half.  J.P., for example, had only 1 assist the entire game.  Keith Hornsby and Jon Nwanunu only played 4 minutes a piece, while Quinard Jackson struggled on the boards, finishing with 3.

A win is a win, and now Asheville will return home today to face USC Upstate and hopefully avenge last year’s loss.  Hopefully the Bulldogs’ performance will begin when the ball is tipped.

Battle 4 Atlantis: a recap and analysis

Asheville’s record: 1-2
Overall record: 3-4
Payout: 2 million dollars (in Dr. Evil voice)
A Thanksgiving in the Bahamas: unaffordable for this graduate student.

The Battle 4 Atlantis might be one of the more ridiculous concepts to recently appear in College Basketball, and that’s saying something (aircraft carriers, play-in round, post-season tournaments beside the NIT and NCAA, Dick Vitale in general).  It’s a Thanksgiving weekend tournament being played inside a converted hotel ballroom that happens to be in the middle of an opulent Bahamas resort featuring gambling, water parks, beaches, nightclubs, and more.  I’m sure a fun weekend was had by all.

Basketball-wise, Asheville got a lot of exposure from this tournament, certainly more had the Bulldogs simply played money games vs. Georgia or Ohio State.  This tournament gave us three tv games against three different opponents with three different outcomes.

The first game against UConn turned out slightly better than imagined, although it left many feeling frustrated that the Bulldogs had a chance to win it and came up short.  This mood was not alleviated when UCF beat the Huskies the next day.  Still, losing by 10 to the defending national champion is about as moral a victory as you can get and Asheville should hold their heads high for that one.

College of Charleston posed perhaps the most interesting (and exciting!) game of the tournament, as two good mid-major teams went at it for 40 minutes.  Ultimately Asheville came up short, and while you can argue about the reasons behind the loss it was a close game and provided a better prep session for close games during conference play than double-digit losses to ACC and Big East teams.

Finally, the Utah game surprised no one as the Dogs routed the Utes (what an ‘Ute’ is exactly, I don’t know) by hitting outside shots and driving the paint.

So Asheville comes away 1-2 from a trip to the Bahamas with a steel briefcase full 2 million in small, unmarked bills.  Ok, kidding about the briefcase part. More importantly, Asheville gets much-needed exposure from playing teams that they don’t usually play in an unfamiliar environment.  If this sounds like the NCAA tournament, then you’re correct.  Now it’s back to reality as the Bulldogs face Gardner Webb in Boiling Springs on Tuesday in the Bulldogs’ conference opener.

By the way, if yesterday’s game wasn’t evidence that the Southern and Big South conferences need to have some sort of conference challenge ala the ACC and Big 10, then I don’t know what is.  Just throwing it out there.

Asheville 126, Mars Hill 75.

51 POINTS.1

Last night’s game reminded me of whenever I play NCAA Basketball (sadly no longer made) on my Xbox and decide that I want to have some fun, so I make my team UNC and make the computer team New Mexico State or Charleston Southern.  I set the difficulty level to ‘easy’ and proceed to beat the computer team by 50+ points.2  I usually have lots of offensive rebounds and assists combined with lots of three pointers and dunks.

Sound familiar?

It’s what happened last night at Kimmel Arena, as the Bulldogs got their first regular season win in their new home.  Asheville recorded the second-highest point total in team history and set a team record for assists with 38, beating the previous record of 31.

Asheville’s effort was spearheaded by their guards, as Keith Hornsby led all scorers with 21 points, while J.P. Primm and Matt Dickey had 19 and 13, respectively.3  Corey Littlejohn and Trent Meyer rounded out the guard spots with 15 and 13 points.

The Frontcourtbycommittee had a fun time of it last night, letting the guards get the shots while they got the boards.  Chudier Pal led all boards with 9, while Jackson, Nwanunu, and Roberts each had 7.  Roberts and Chris Stephenson also scored in double figures with 12 points each.

Asheville’s in a bit of a scheduling lull right now, facing two area Division II teams that, as last night demonstrated, are way out of their league.  Brevard will visit Kimmel on Monday before the Bulldogs hop on a jet to the Bahamas to play UConn, et al in the “Battle 4 Atlantis,” perhaps the most rediculously awesome tournament name ever.  Last night’s game gave Eddie and the ‘Dogs a chance to stretch their legs and give some solid minutes to younger players who will play a big role next year.

1. Thank you to the Bulldogs for making me eat crow on my 21 point margin prediction.  I will now eat crow.

2. What a terrible decision by EA Sports to scrap that game.  I loved playing as UNC Asheville’s coach in season mode and winning multiple NCAA titles.  Yes, I know I have a problem.

3. I solemnly swear that I will never ever use puns about Keith Hornsby’s dad.  Shame on you, sportswriters.  Also, none of you can come up with better puns then “That’s just the way it is”?  I want your journalism license revoked.