The UNC Asheville men’s basketball team started the game against mountain rival Western Carolina University behind the eight-ball. They were short-handed, missing their sixth and seventh men (Jaron Lane and Jon Nwannunu), and fell behind early. The Catamounts placed four players in double figures, and came away with a 86-67 win in Cullowhee.
Both teams were coming off an eight-day break, and only Western showed it was ready to play. At the Ramsey Center, WCU (7-6) built a 15 point lead at the half (40-25) and held off several Asheville comebacks in the second half as the Bulldogs (6-6) lost a second consecutive game.
Western leads the rivalry series 24-19 overall.
Asheville had trouble getting together, altering their starting lineup as J.P. Primm and Chris Stephenson, both of whom had started every game this season, were on the bench at the start of each half for disciplinary reasons due to returning late from the holiday break. In their places, Asheville started Jeremy Harn and Keith Hornsby for the first time all season.
Matt Dickey (left) once again lead Asheville with a season-high 23 points. Jeremy Atkinson added 16 points and had six rebounds. Chris Stephenson had a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
“We didn’t play very well tonight,” stated Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach. “We made some runs in the second half, but you can’t expect to come back against a good team like Western Carolina when you give them a 15-point lead. Our guys didn’t do a good job guarding the three-point line and Western made us pay for it. We’re going to have to play better than we did tonight.
“Guys came back (from Christmas break) and didn’t get ready to play,” a disappointed Biedenbach stated. “Nothing comes without hard work. We gave them shots all night. Teams are going to shoot the ball like that when you don’t play defense.”
Western shot .544 (31-of-57) from the field and .529 (9-of-17) from beyond the arc. Harouna Mutombo led the Cats with 18 points and 13 rebounds, and Brandon Boggs added 17 points.
Asheville shot just .386 (22-of-57) from the field and .188 (3-of-16) from the three-point line.
“We got a lot of mileage (and 27 points) out of our bench tonight,” said WCU coach Larry Hunter. “We rebounded well (42-33 advantage) and shot the ball well, and those were the keys. There was a lot of inconsistency at the start and it was hard for either team to get into a flow, but I feel like we played pretty well.”
The Bulldogs got in trouble midway through the first half when WCU went on a 21-4 run to grab a 38-21 lead. Asheville made several comeback attempts in the second half, getting as close as eight points on three occasions, but the Cats used a late 7-0 run to clinch the win.
Asheville plays at Big South Conference rival Winthrop on New Year’s Eve, as league play resumes.