Asheville downs VMI for 2nd straight Big South title
Asheville, NC (Sports Network) - Jeremy Atkinson scored 18 points and J.P. Primm added 16 points with seven assists, leading UNC-Asheville to its second straight Big South Tournament title with an 80-64 victory over Virginia Military Institute.
Matt Dickey contributed 15 points, six assists and five steals, while Chris Stephenson scored 13 and Quinard Jackson chipped in 11 for the Bulldogs (24-9), who became the first repeat Big South Tournament champion since Winthrop won four straight from 2005-08.
UNC-Asheville will make its third NCAA Tournament appearance. The Bulldogs won an opening-round game against Texas Southern in 2003 before losing to Texas, then beat Arkansas-Little Rock in the first round last year before losing to Pittsburgh.
"I can't tell you how proud I am of this team over the whole season. What they have done off and on the court all season long to get them to this point. Defense was the difference in the game and our guys were solid on the defensive end. VMI did a great job of coaching their team to get them here today and they had a great run this week. That's why we won the tournament: because of defense," UNC-Asheville head coach Eddie Biedenbach said.
Keith Gabriel scored 12 points and Jordan Weethee added 11 for VMI (17-16), which has never won the title since joining the Big South in 2003-04. The Keydets also lost in the championship game in 2007 and 2009, and last earned an NCAA Tournament berth in 1977 as members of the Southern Conference.
"I thought the difference in the game was all five of their starters were in double figures and we barely had anybody in double digits. I am proud of my guys. This week has been remarkable for my kids, for my staff and our fans. I think we just ran out of gas today. It was special for our guys, especially for our four seniors," VMI head coach Duggar Baucom said.
VMI tied the game at 44-44 with 16 minutes left after a four-point possession that resulted from a technical foul against Primm for a hard foul after the whistle against Gabriel.
The teams then traded three-point plays before Asheville embarked on a 9-0 run. Jackson ignited it with a layup and finished it with another bucket from in close to give the Bulldogs a 56-47 advantage with just over 12 minutes to play. Dickey fueled the burst with a three-pointer, two free throws and an assist on Jackson's second layup.
VMI tried to stay within striking distance and a three-pointer by Ron Burks pulled the Keydets within eight with 6:17 to play, but the Bulldogs put it away with an 11-0 spurt. Atkinson scored four to key the run and a layup by Jaron Lane gave Asheville a commanding 76-57 cushion with three minutes remaining.
The Bulldogs shot 52.7 percent overall from the field and had 24 assists on 29 made field goals. Asheville dominated inside, outscoring VMI 48-26 in the paint, and also forced 20 VMI turnovers that led to 29 points.
Stan Okoye, VMI's leading scorer in the tournament, was just 2-of-8 from the field and finished with seven points.
Asheville scored the first six points of the game and built a 16-8 lead, but VMI followed with the next seven to trim the deficit to one and later ripped off nine straight to grab its first lead of the contest.
Nick Gore's layup gave the Keydets a 25-24 lead and Gabriel converted an Asheville turnover into a three-pointer on the ensuing possession to make it a 28-24 game with 5 1/2 minutes left in the half.
The Bulldogs went on an 8-0 run moments later, capped by Stephenson's layup in transition for a 34-30 edge, and carried a 36-35 advantage into the break.
The Bulldogs improved to 4-4 all-time in Big South finals. They also captured the 1989 tournament, when an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament was not awarded to the winner...UNC-Asheville became the ninth straight No. 1 seed to reach the Big South title game...VMI also lost a pair of regular-season meetings to UNC-Asheville by a combined 12 points...VMI became the third No. 7 seed to reach, and lose, the Big South title game. Charleston Southern lost to Winthrop in 2005 and High Point was also a loser to Winthrop in 2002.
03/03 18:12:13 ET