UNC Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach had won 249 games in his coaching career before this one. But he has not had too many of them go the way Sunday’s game went. Out-played for 36-1/2 minutes by a scrappy USC Upstate team from the Atlantic Sun Conference, the UNC Asheville Bulldogs (5-4) looked like they went into a phone booth and came out dressed as Superman.
Trailing 81-72 with 3:38 left in the game, the Big South Conference favorites scored the final 16 points of the game, and came away with an 88-81 win, Biedenbach’s 250th. Asheville’s rally was ignited by Jeremy Atkinson’s old-fashioned three-point play as the lead was cut to just six. After Upstate missed a shot, Matt Dickey did what he does best – hit a clutch three-point shot from way downtown – to cut the lead to 81-78. Dickey then stole the inbounds pass, fed Jaron Lane and number 5 scored on a lay-up to bring the Bulldogs to within a point at the 2:46 mark.
“We were fortunate,” coach Biedenbach stated after the contest. “USC Upstate out-played us for most of the game, but we hung in there and found a way to win at the end. Our press really worked well and got us some easy baskets.”
The coach, speaking on the radio interview following the game, said this game and Thursday night’s contest at Gardner-Webb were games the Bulldogs would not have won last year. But, senior leadership and outstanding team effort has changed things. Playing Connecticut and the College of Charleston in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, plus having played N.C. State and UNC earlier has toughened this team up.
Asheville continued to play hard defense, forcing turnovers leading to more points. This was one game where the home team did not fall behind by double digits early, but it was instead a back-and-forth game until midway through the second half. The Spartans took charge of the game at that time, scoring eight straight points to take a 75-67 lead. Four different Spartan players scored during the run. They continued to play very tough, and eventually built that lead to 81-72 before Asheville began its improbable comeback.
Matt Dickey again led Asheville with 22 points, Chris Stephenson scored 20 and Jeremy Atkinson chipped in 18. Stephenson had 9 rebounds and Atkinson had 8 for the Bulldogs.
Asheville shot a season-high .627 from the field (32-of-51) while the Spartans shot just .412 (28-of-68).
I will continue to say this about the 2011-12 UNC Asheville Bulldogs…they are a very tough team. While undersized as a team, individual players like Jeremy Atkinson and Chris Stephenson are making things difficult for opponents. Quinard Jackson has shown inside toughness as well. This team fears no opponent and does not get down when things don’t go as planned. That, my friends, is the mark of a veteran team…one that will be giving Big South Conference foes a battle every night.
The Bulldogs are now off for exams, and will play next on Dec. 15 when they host neighboring NAIA foe Montreat at Kimmel Arena at 7:00 p.m.