The Bulldogs lost a round of catch-me-if-you-can, 62-81, in the Sears ESPN Bracketbuster game against Ohio University on Saturday at the Convocation Center.
“We did not come out with enough enthusiasm and desire to win the game,” said senior guard Matt Dickey. “I think we played pretty bad in the first half and well in the second half. But playing only well for one half won’t win you games.”
The loss in Athens, Ohio, marks the Bulldogs’ second consecutive loss.
“The team didn’t play well twenty minutes into the first half,” said Brett Carey, the Bulldogs’ assistant coach. “The second half, we got back to our game. But the time got us and we were out of time.”
Ohio’s defense proved a challenge as they pushed the Bulldogs to commit 24 turnovers and allowed only 18 points in the first half. Ohio defense also slashed the Bulldogs shooting from the field statistic to a mere 0.295, a season low.
Turnovers played a huge role in the game, Dickey said.
“We knew they were good defensively and we knew we would have to take care of the ball to win, and we did not do that,” said the 22-year-old. “Our goal was to win, and we did not accomplish that because we didn’t come ready to play.”
They played the game without their starting guard Chris Stephenson, who sat out with an upper body injury, according to University Athletic Officials. Junior forward Jeremy Atkinson replaced him as the starter and he and Dickey put up 16 points in the game. With those 16 points, Dickey shifts to third place on UNC Asheville’s career scoring list with 1,710 points.
Despite his achievement, it does not outshine the fact the team’s performance, and his own, was not up to par, Dickey said.
“The team did not play well together, and I did not have a good game,” he said. “We were just out of sync on both ends of the floor, and that is what we’ll have to work on in practice this week.”
When preparing for the game, however, nothing changed, Carey said.
“We approach every game with confidence, it’s no different,” said the 34-year-old. “They’ve always had a good team; they’ve always been in a good league. But, we’ve played North Carolina, we’ve played the University of Utah, we’ve played UCONN, we’ve played NC State. It’s another game. That’s the way you approach it. It’s no different at all.”
The Big South tournament and the NCAA tournament will be filled with teams like Ohio University, North Carolina and NC State, said center Jeremy Harn.
“I think that the way this game prepared us for the Big South tournament was by showing us how much harder we really have to push ourselves to be the team that we want to be,” the 22-year-old said.
ESPN 3 broadcasted the game live via the Internet. Dickey said coverage of the team may not be new, but for this game, it proved a teaching tool.
“We’ve played on TV and ESPN before, so the Ohio game helped us in some ways,” the Trussville, Ala., native said. “But for us it was more of a learning experience for what we need to improve on to win the tournament.”
Winning the tournament cannot be harder this year because of the constant pressure from the other teams trying to break down the doghouse, Harn said.
“We’ve had a target on our backs since the season started. We were predicted to be No. 1, and we won the tournament last year.” the Chapel Hill native said. “Teams in the Big South have been giving us their best shot all year because of preseason predictions and our current status atop the league, but that just makes us focus harder every game.”
The Ohio game gave the Bulldogs an opportunity to show the nation that small schools weren’t just flinging balls around, Harn said.
“The goals for the Ohio game were to win and play in a way that would earn more respect on a national stage,” he said. “We fell short of our main goals, but I think that we will learn from it and be a better team because of it.”