The Big South Conference Tournament got underway Wednesday afternoon, and in the first two games, higher-seeded teams were upset. No. 2 Coastal Carolina and No. 3 Campbell were routed by VMI and Winthrop respectively, so coming into the night session, top-seeded UNC Asheville was on upset-alert.
The Bulldogs played shutdown defense on the league’s leading scorer and had five players score in double figures in an 86-61 quarterfinal win over No. 8 High Point at Kimmel Arena.
Asheville (22-9) reached the semifinals for the sixth consecutive year and will play No. 4 Charleston Southern Thursday evening. CSU routed No. 5 Liberty to earn their berth. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
The league’s leading scorer, Nick Barbour, averaging 20 points per game, was just 2-of-17 from the field and finished with seven points. “We just chased Barbour all over the floor and tried not to give him good looks,” said Asheville guard Matt Dickey, who guarded Barbour. “We had great help-side defense and I think we made it pretty tough on him.”
Asheville’s Chris Stephenson (18 points), Jeremy Atkinson (16 points and 8 rebounds), J.P. Primm (15 points plus 6 assists), Jaron Lane (13 points) and Big South Player of the Year Matt Dickey (11 points) led the Bulldogs.
“The first two games helped our attitude and got our attention,” said Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach. “I thought we did a very good job, our whole team, except about a five-minute stretch in the first half, as we played focused and played our game. I told our guys to focus on High Point at the start of the tournament and I thought they did that and I am extremely happy about that. High Point has played great basketball since they changed their lineup and switched to a zone about six or seven games ago. They are good enough to play Purdue to two points and they are a very good basketball team. We had no chance to relax in this game, not against High Point, or anybody in this League.”
The Bulldogs, who led 34-25 at the half, came out very focused in the second half. A 25-5 run midway through the second half put the game out of reach. Asheville shot 65.2% (15-of-23) from the field in the second half and made 21-of-30 free throws after the intermission.
GAME NOTES: Asheville is 13-2 at Kimmel Arena this season and has won 23 of their last 25 games against Big South Conference opponents. Eddie Biedenbach has 18 Big South Tournament victories, second most in league history. The Dogs out-rebounded High Point 36-28 and has now out-rebounded seven of its last eight opponents.
PERSONAL THOUGHTS: Tonight’s game against CSU will be a challenge, as they are one of two teams to beat Asheville in Kimmel Arena – UNC was the other. Coach Barclay Radebaugh’s Buccaneers are a dangerous team – very athletic and never quit. Personally, this is Asheville’s tournament to lose…especially with the winner of this semifinal game going up against either the No. 6 or No. 7 seed in Saturday’s finals.