Walking into Kimbel Arena I was amazed at how fast the season has gone by. Coastal Carolina still had a home Bracketbusters matchup on Saturday, but this would be the last regular season home conference game for the Chanticleers. It would also in all likelihood be the last Big South game in Kimbel Arena. They told us the same thing last year and we still had another year in the tiny gymnasium, but the new Convocation Center is nearly completed, so this really would be the final farewell stretch.
There wasn't much of a positive vibe amongst many in the crowd. CCU was on a 3-game skid and was coming off a loss against rival Winthrop, where they were never in it. Starting guards Danny Nieman and Kierre Greenwood missed the game due to injury and a one game suspension respectively. The opponent for the evening would be a tough one in the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs who only had one loss in conference and had already captured the Big South crown and the right to host the Big South Tournament.
This would be the last visit to Kimbel Arena for several seniors on Asheville, including all stars JP Primm and Matt Dickey. It's almost on cue that in the past 4 years of watching Dickey play you'll get the chants of "You Suck... Dickey!!!" and "Little Dickey!!!" from the student section and sure enough they were razzing him in the warm-ups. CCU also went out of their way to let UNC-A know what they thought about them during player introductions.
The Bulldogs weren't too bothered from the onset as they scored the first 4 points. Not a good start for the struggling Chants, but a 3 from Chris Gradnigo made sure the Bulldogs wouldn't run away early. Actually it was Coastal who turned the tables on Asheville by scoring the next 15 points.
Since Coastal was missing 2 starters in the previous game, little used players like Bisi Addey and Charles Ashford got serious minutes against Winthrop. I didn't think that would carry over into tonight since both players returned, but Addey and Ashford were some of the first few subs into the game. CCU was going much deeper into the rotation in general, most likely to keep everyone fresh for the usual quick pace set by Asheville.
The problem for UNCA was that despite taking the quick looks they were accustomed to, not many of the shots were falling. The momentum was all on the side of CCU with everyone seemingly contributing to a lead that ballooned to 15 with a 35-20 advantage at the half for the Chants.
No one would have expected that halftime score for Asheville, especially with them averaging 80+ points per game. They have had several deficits this year though, with them coming back against Campbell after being down 17, so everyone knew that the shots would probably start falling for the Bulldogs sooner rather than later.
As the hometown crowd feared, Asheville came out hot, scoring the first eight points of the half. Even with CCU starting to score, the Bulldogs couldn't miss and the big lead was down to 42-39 in an instant. The Bulldog barrage stopped for a stretch when an unexpected contributor stepped up for the Chants: Addey was capitalizing on his playing time opportunity. First, he got a 3-point play then followed it with a steal and breakaway dunk. If Addey can play like he did on this night, it provides the much needed frontcourt depth CCU has been looking for.
With the lead back up to eight it didn't matter that much for Asheville as it seemed like they were scoring on every possession. Their defense wasn't air tight on the other end, but they were getting just enough stops to crawl back into the game. A Jaron Lane bucket put UNCA down 1 with 6 minutes to go.
I was sitting in a different section just for this game so I got to hear from several of the fans who thought they knew what to do to stop the Bulldogs. It was funny to hear from the different "experts" considering I usually sit next to and talk to the same people during every game. I'm pretty sure Cliff Ellis stuck with his own game plan and had the returning Greenwood make some clutch baskets while finally getting some stops on Asheville.
The lead was back up to nine but the Big South regular season champs wouldn't be deterred. CCU got passive with the ball on offense and Asheville had the lead down to 3 with a minute to go. It looked as if CCU was just trying to burn the clock on the ensuing possession as Anthony Raffa was stuck with the ball and the shot clock was winding down. He somehow launched an off balance 3 as the shot clock expired that found the bottom of the net. The crowd exploded and the lead would be too much for UNCA to overcome.
CCU notched a solid win over the first place team, and while it doesn't mean much in the big picture for Asheville, it was good for the Chanticleers to stop their losing streak and gain some momentum going into the postseason. If the Coastal Carolina can somehow host the Big South Championship game, there will be one more game at Kimbel, but if not it was a great way to close out the diminutive arena in Big South play.
at COASTAL CAROLINA 74, NORTH CAROLINA-ASHEVILLE 69 02/14/2012
NORTH CAROLINA-ASHEVILLE 19-8 (14-2) -- M. Dickey 6-12 4-4 19; J. Primm 5-15 0-0 12; J. Lane 5-9 0-0 12; J. Atkinson 7-14 1-2 16; Q. Jackson 2-4 2-2 6; C. Stephenson 2-11 0-0 4; K. Hornsby 0-0 0-0 0; J. Nwannunu 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-65 7-8 69. COASTAL CAROLINA 18-8 (11-5) -- C. Gradnigo 5-8 2-2 15; S. McLaurin 2-3 0-2 4; A. Raffa 6-14 4-4 20; J. Pack 6-10 2-3 14; K. Greenwood 4-10 2-2 12; D. Nieman 0-2 0-0 0; B. Addey 4-7 1-1 9; D. Moore 0-1 0-0 0; C. Ashford 0-2 0-0 0; J. Griffin 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-58 11-14 74.
Three-point goals: UNCA 8-18 (C. Stephenson 0-1; J. Primm 2-7; M. Dickey 3-6; J. Lane 2-2; J. Atkinson 1-2), CCU 9-18 (C. Gradnigo 3-4; A. Raffa 4-8; D. Moore 0-1; D. Nieman 0-2; J. Griffin 0-1; K. Greenwood 2-2); Rebounds: UNCA 33 (J. Primm 9), CCU 32 (C. Gradnigo 13); Assists: UNCA 14 (J. Primm 6), CCU 15 (K. Greenwood 5); Total Fouls -- UNCA 14, CCU 12; Fouled Out: UNCA-M. Dickey; CCU-None.