The second game of the Big South semifinals was the main event for many of the Asheville faithful. The beginning of the previous game between VMI and Winthrop had very few neutral fans, but the crowd got gradually larger and larger as the game went on. Most of the fans were there to see UNCA take on Charleston Southern and had little interest in the initial matchup.
I was interested in the previous game obvious and was also ready for the final game of the evening. I was glad that my seat was near the CSU bench, since after seeing several Buccaneer games this year, I've become somewhat a fan of them and a big fan of Kelvin Martin, the only senior on the squad. I figured this may be a good opportunity for CSU to pull off the upset, since they were the only Big South team to be able to beat Asheville on their home floor.
Since there were 20 minutes until tipoff, I walked around to kill some time, and while I was tempted to buy some UNC Asheville Jelly Beans, I decided to pass and just stuck with the basic hot dog. Speaking of dogs, the Asheville mascot, Rocky, was hanging out on the concourse, so I knew I had to snap a pic of the cute pup.
When it got near gametime, I was glad that Kimmel Arena was much more packed than it was during yesterday's game for Asheville. It wasn't near a sellout, but the atmosphere was much more electric leading up to tipoff. CSU added to the atmosphere with their always vocal band and decent contingent of fans.
I was hoping for an upset, since I sort of wanted the championship game to be in Charleston. The CSU Field House wouldn't have been able to host, since they couldn't accommodate ESPN, so it looked as if TD Arena would host the championship if the Bucs could somehow knock off the Bulldogs. It would have saved me some money from getting another night in a hotel in Asheville and would have also meant I could easily make the trip to Macon to catch the Atlantic Sun championship that night.
It didn't look good for a CSU upset early on though, since UNCA rode the wave of emotions within Kimmel Arena to an early lead. The Buccaneers kept it close though, as the lead was only 15-12, but a run from Asheville gave them a considerable advantage. The only thing that would temper UNCA's run was a ridiculous toss from Martin when he accidentally thought the shot clock was nearing its end, and just threw the ball from three and sank it.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, that would be one of few highlights during the first half. CSU couldn't cut into the Bulldog advantage since anytime they would score, there would be a response from either JP Primm or Jeremy Atkinson. A big example of this would be at the end of the half, when Saah Nimley hit a three to get CSU within 10, but Primm had the answer right before the buzzer with another three to give UNCA a 44-31 advantage.
Charleston Southern would need one of their patented runs to be able to avoid elimination. Part of that run would include some stops on defenses, but UNCA had other ideas when the second half started, when Primm and Matt Dickey hit threes to solidify the lead for the Bulldogs. The Buccaneers didn't have much of an answer, since Arlon Harper, Sheldon Strickland, and Jeremy Sexton, who all had solid nights last night against Liberty, weren't able to contribute much.
Asheville slowly notched the lead up into the 20s, and I was getting discouraged with what I was seeing. The Big South regular season had been so entertaining with so many competitive games, but none of the tournament games had yet been settled by less than double digits. The fact that I was sitting next to several obnoxious UNCA fans probably didn't help matters either.
The teams slogged through the second half, as it felt like Asheville was drawing a foul every time they went down the floor. They made an amazing 28 of 30 free throws and dispirited the Bucs, as I could tell they were a defeated team from the huddles during the timeouts.
Asheville had a big advantage on the free throws and the CSU players were very frustrated, but there was nothing they could do about it. UNCA had he lead up to 30-plus points and it didn't seem like Primm missed anything on the night.
UNCA got the win, and has torn through High Point and Charleston Southern. They will end up hosting VMI on Saturday night in what should be an interesting game. VMI has ripped through Coastal Carolina and Winthrop in two different styles of games and I can only wonder how and if the Keydets will be able to handle the Bulldogs juggernaut.
I originally didn't plan to stay in Asheville until Saturday for the championship, but before I wrote my semifinal recaps, I made sure to buy my ticket to the final game. I had seen 35 games with Big South opponents, so I might as well see the whole thing through and I'll be looking forward to seeing who will be the first team to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament this Saturday.
at NORTH CAROLINA-ASHEVILLE 91, CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 64 03/01/2012
CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 19-12 (11-7) -- K. Martin 7-10 0-0 15; S. Nimley 6-12 4-5 20; M. Muo 3-5 0-0 8; P. Gombwer 1-3 0-0 2; J. Sexton 0-5 0-0 0; A. Harper 3-11 0-0 7; S. Strickland 2-9 0-0 6; C. Grier 0-0 1-2 1; C. Bowen 0-0 1-2 1; M. Deter 0-0 0-0 0; G. Dorleus 0-0 1-2 1; M. Kennedy 0-0 0-0 0; T. Odom 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 23-56 7-11 64. NORTH CAROLINA-ASHEVILLE 23-9 (16-2) -- J. Atkinson 4-7 11-11 19; C. Stephenson 6-16 6-6 18; J. Primm 8-13 7-8 27; Q. Jackson 1-3 0-1 2; J. Lane 0-1 2-2 2; M. Dickey 4-7 0-0 10; T. Meyer 2-3 0-0 5; K. Hornsby 2-3 2-2 6; J. Harn 0-0 0-0 0; C. Littlejohn 0-2 0-0 0; J. Seligson 0-0 0-0 0; M. Davis 0-1 0-0 0; C. Pal 0-0 0-0 0; J. Roberts 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 28-57 28-30 91.
Three-point goals: CHSO 11-28 (K. Martin 1-1; J. Sexton 0-4; M. Muo 2-3; T. Odom 1-1; S. Strickland 2-6; A. Harper 1-6; S. Nimley 4-7), UNCA 7-21 (C. Stephenson 0-5; J. Primm 4-8; M. Davis 0-1; Q. Jackson 0-1; M. Dickey 2-4; T. Meyer 1-1; J. Atkinson 0-1); Rebounds: CHSO 28 (K. Martin 5), UNCA 31 (J. Atkinson 8); Assists: CHSO 12 (S. Nimley 4), UNCA 13 (J. Primm 3); Total Fouls -- CHSO 24, UNCA 15; Fouled Out: CHSO-None; UNCA-None.