Game #9-125: North Carolina-Asheville at North Carolina State WolfpackNovember 23, 2012 7:00 pm
Raleigh Sports Center
For the past few years for Thanksgiving I have visited family in Durham, North Carolina. I wanted to get to at least one basketball game when there, possibly two. But on Thanksgiving weekend, you have to coordinate family activities with others. So my uncle was able to pick out a sporting event the whole family could enjoy: an American-style football game between Miami and Duke. My uncle works at Duke, and I was a season ticket holder for Duke in 2007 since football tickets there are much easier to get than basketball. So a football game between Duke and Miami on Saturday seemed like the perfect thing to go to. The only problem is that I love mid-major basketball much more than football. The Miami-Duke game being a 12:30 kickoff would eliminate the possibility of seeing Wagner of the NEC play in Durham at North Carolina Central that day. So the only game I would get this Thanksgiving weekend would be to see a guarantee game between N.C. State and UNC Asheville in Raleigh on Friday night.
As far as local sports opportunities go, my uncle probably was not thinking too much of mid-major basketball. The Raleigh-Durham area is known for college sports, but with most of it being above the Red Line. The Triangle region of North Carolina just does not have educational institutions that are of the mid-major type, since the metro area is dominated by having three large research universities. And when my uncle's daughter Amelia has in the past insisted how much nobody at UNC Asheville cares about sports
, she is probably thinking of how UNCA compares with the schools in this metro area she grew up in. This game between UNCA and NCSU (where my uncle worked briefly before going to Duke) would likely have been considered by my uncle as a family event, but it likely fell below his radar of what to do on a Friday night. And my cousin would not be able to see her school for the first time play basketball anyway, since she is in a study abroad program in France right now. But when talking to her on video chat on Thanksgiving, she seemed more aware of UNCA basketball. This was likely due to the recent success of the Bulldogs being the two-time defending Big South champions. She had watched the NCAA Tournament game against Syracuse on television and was appalled at the officiating in that game, and knew that UNC Asheville would be weakened this year by the graduation of Matt Dickey. She has been meaning to see a basketball game since she has a friend on the cheerleading squad, but won't get to until she returns to the U.S. next semester. I wrapped up my conversation with her by saying that I was going to see UNC Asheville lose the next day. She then asked who the Bulldogs were playing, and when I told her it was NC State, she replied, "Yeah, probably".
The Raleigh-Durham Triangle metro area is not a mid-major friendly place, although it has North Carolina Central of the MEAC as well as Campbell and Elon not to far away. And even more unfriendly to a mid-major like UNC Asheville is NC State's PNC Arena, previously known as the RBC Center until this year. Last year when I visited NC State on Thanksgiving weekend, they were playing on campus at Reynolds Coliseum
as to not conflict with the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL, the top tenant of PNC Arena/RBC Center/Raleigh Entertainment & Sports Arena. But the NHL is currently taking a year hiatus as it does every so often now, so NC State is now free schedule any game they wish there. Yet even with the bigger arena, it looked as if ticket availability would be less for this game than last year. NC State is in the top 25 with its highest preseason expectations in several years. I was surprised to see that the upper deck sideline seating was nearly sold out, so I got an online ticket five hours before tip-off.
I still headed to PNC Arena from Durham at 5 PM in order to arrive in Raleigh at 5:30 PM for the 7 PM tip-off. The reason I left so early for the game was because I read what sounded like a horror story from Matt Cayuela last year of the parking situation
. Matt showed up just an under an hour before tipoff on a New Year's Eve game and barely made it in to the arena before the start of a game against Western Carolina. I looked up where the outer lots were that I likely would be directed to, and had the navigation on my Android lead me there. And sure enough, it seemed that I had perfected the best way to park at PNC Arena. I got there and parked as quickly as I would for any other game. It turns out that the parking lots off the east exit from the arena were more efficient at reaching general parking. The west exit from the freeway is closer to the arena itself, but that is also in an area reserved for Wolfpack Club members. Of course, it still cost $10 to park (I don't even usually pay that much for NBA games) and it was a longer walk than it is for most college basketball games. But I walked twice as far the next day at the Duke football game with the same parking price. And for that matter, it is also a much longer walk from my car to a Coastal Carolina football game (although general parking is free there).
But that is not to say that PNC Arena is a great place to go. It is a professional arena, a place that Our Game does not go well at. The first thing you notice at PNC Arena is that there is plenty of stuff to remind you that the main tenant of the arena is not a basketball team above the Red Line, but rather a professional hockey team. The Hurricanes have a gift shop at the main that is prominent at the main entrance of the arena. It has to be a pretty lonely place right now.
The second thing you notice at PNC Arena is the airport-like security at the entrance. The only mid-major I know of with metal detectors is SC State, and the metal detectors there are not always even turned on and usually not rigidly enforced. I also noticed on the bag check table they have a chart demonstrating which cameras can be acceptable. It's great then that my bigger camera with a camera lens two inches longer than what was deemed acceptable here died 13 days before this game, so I would receive less hassle going in. The only camera I have now is a gift I received for my birthday that I had wanted specifically so that it could meet professional arena size requirements while still taking decent pictures.
They allowed some people like me at the front of the line to go through the metal detectors at 5:45, but nobody could enter the actual arena itself until 6 PM. The crammed lobby got so stuffy and hot that a security guard cracked the arena doors open so everybody could breathe. Once inside, I had a decent enough time. It is a multi-purpose arena primarily used for hockey, which can make for poor visibility seating. But the student section at NC State forms a ring around the court, and the stands were full and enthusiastic enough to create a decent atmosphere. As I anticipated from looking at ticket availability, the arena was actually mostly full for this game. Aside from half-full season ticket areas on the lower deck sidelines and the upper deck baseline seating that went mostly unsold, it was a mostly full arena for a guarantee game. I still am not a fan of PNC Arena, given that it is a professional arena with not mid-major friendly prices and on its second bank naming-rights deal. But I have certainly had worse experiences with professional arenas, particularly with the 2010 Southern Conference Tournament in Charlotte and last December's game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus
Trying to belong here was the UNC Asheville Bulldogs, the two-time defending Big South champions but having graduated four of its starters from those winning teams. UNCA still had Jeremy Atkinson, who played junior college ball an hour northeast of Raleigh at Louisburg and played high school ball about 90 minutes east of PNC Arena in Wilson. Atkinson had one fan cheering for him a section over from where I was sitting, and was looking to prove that he could be a leader on this year's team. But a rebuilding UNCA team seemed to be mismatched by an ACC team from NCSU that finally seemed to have rebuilt towards a successful team. This did not seem like the place where one would see a Red Line Upset.
But then the Bulldogs came out to score the first six points of the game. NC State would come right back, but UNC Asheville continued to hold up surprisingly well. Keith Hornsby would continue to get good shots and make them, and Jon Nwannunu was able to make plays at the basket. The Wolfpack fans were slightly restless waiting to see what they expected to see in a guarantee game blowout. I always had my camera ready in case the Wolfpack broke out and create a lot of scoring plays that would end any UNCA chance. But while NC State evened it in the middle of the first half, UNC Asheville came back with a good run of its own. And look who was ahead at halftime!
Yet I did not see this lasting. This was not like the South Carolina-Elon
game two day prior. NC State unlike USC has everything you would expect to benefit the team above the Red Line. They have big guys, and Nwannunu and D.J. Cunningham were physically outmatched by the frontcourt of the Wolfpack. N.C. State also has high-quality recruits and fringe NBA prospects that you would expect to slaughter a rebuilding Big South team. NCSU also had over twice as many fans behind them as South Carolina did on Wednesday. And while NC State came charging back in the second half, UNC Asheville still would not back down. Atkinson made some nice plays driving to the basket, and UNCA still continued to often hold a slight lead. Whenever the Wolfpack got the lead, UNCA rather than folding would take it back. But despite their best efforts, UNCA could not make the big plays needed to somehow break away for an improbable RLU. Hornsby is a good shooter, but neither he or his teammates have the ability to light up the scoreboard from behind the arc which is what most of our teams have to do to have a chance in this kind of game. UNC Asheville could stay in the game, but could not put it away.
And that meant that the Wolfpack would find ways to prevail. And as UNCA knows very well from last year, that means not getting the breaks of the officiating calls. UNCA coach Ed Biedenbach received a technical foul early in the second half, and Nwannunu and Cunningham would both foul out late. But the biggest call would be just after the final media timeout with three minutes left when UNCA was called for an intentional foul as Richard Howell of the Wolfpack made a layup to put NCSU ahead for good. It was a simple reach from behind for the ball I did not see right away where UNCA's Trent Meyer grabbed Howell's shirt when reaching in. It's not usually called an intentional foul in that situation when the foul isn't flagrant and perhaps not even intentional. It is especially not usually called when the shot is good. But that is the breaks our side of the Red Line gets when we come into a place like PNC Arena. It was not as bad as the Syracuse game last year for UNCA, as the Bulldogs did receive several breaks on non-foul loose ball calls. But the intentional foul call helped NC State get the momentum they needed to finally pull ahead for good. UNC Asheville would still fight to the finish and Atkinson would continue to make plays to make the Wolfpack sweat out the final minute. But a last second putback by UNCA was only good enough to close the final margin of defeat for the Bulldogs to 82-80.
It was a classic early season ARRRGH game for UNC Asheville. But they had fought to the finish, and showed the ACC fans in Raleigh that they were worthy of belonging at NC State's professional arena. And unfortunately that is all you can usually ask out of a Big South team taking on ranked opposition. In the pregame intros, NC State's video emphasized its name and its standing in North Carolina by showing scenes from across NC with the message "This is OUR State". UNCA was able to at least get some ownership tonight in their state as well, even with the loss. UNC Asheville gained some confidence they that can perhaps continue to run through the Big South again this season, with Atkinson saying after the game that with this effort that UNCA should "kill in the Big South and beat every team by 30"
. UNC Asheville being able to win all 16 Big South games by 30 points or more sounds fairly fetched. But UNCA did put up a solid losing effort in this game in Raleigh. at NORTH CAROLINA STATE 82, NORTH CAROLINA-ASHEVILLE 80
NORTH CAROLINA-ASHEVILLE 1-5 (0-0) -- J. Atkinson 12-22 2-2 28; T. Meyer 3-11 0-0 8; K. Hornsby 8-14 3-3 23; W. Weeks 2-3 1-2 5; D. Cunningham 1-4 2-2 4; J. Nwannunu 5-8 0-0 10; M. Neely 0-0 0-0 0; S. Hughes 1-2 0-0 2; C. Littlejohn 0-0 0-0 0; J. Roberts 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-64 8-9 80.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE 4-1 (0-0) -- R. Howell 8-10 7-11 23; C. Leslie 5-11 4-5 14; S. Wood 5-8 1-2 14; L. Brown 5-12 8-10 18; R. Purvis 1-3 0-2 2; T. Warren 4-5 0-0 8; T. Lewis 1-3 1-2 3. Totals 29-52 21-32 82.
Three-point goals: UNCA 8-19 (T. Meyer 2-8; J. Atkinson 2-5; K. Hornsby 4-6), NCST 3-9 (S. Wood 3-5; L. Brown 0-2; R. Purvis 0-2); Rebounds: UNCA 19 (J. Atkinson 6), NCST 34 (R. Howell 15); Assists: UNCA 15 (T. Meyer 7), NCST 10 (L. Brown 4); Total Fouls -- UNCA 22, NCST 13; Fouled Out: UNCA-J. Nwannunu; NCST-None.