ESPN broadcast both the men’s and women’s senior day basketball games, but neither could win under the spotlight. The women fell to the Campbell University Camels, 56-64, and the men lost a down-to-the-wire nail-biter, 81-79.
“Today was tough for many reasons,” said Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick, UNC Asheville women’s head coach. “We certainly wanted to bounce back after a tough loss Tuesday and also honor our seniors with a victory.”
UNCA’s women’s team led off the double-header looking to retain their sole ownership of first place in the Big South Conference. The Campbell Fighting Camels started the day in ninth place.
Bulldog seniors, forward Tyler Smith and guard Paige Love, received honors before the game.
The Bulldogs’ sluggish first-half play continued while Tianna Knuckles, junior guard and a leading scorer, struggled to find the basket. Knuckles missed all of her attempts for the game, six in the first half and another four in the second half.
“They shot the ball extremely well and played as a team at times when we did not,” Kirkpatrick said. “We had too many miscues and turnovers that led to easy buckets for Campbell.”
The Camels led at halftime, 28-23, thanks to hitting 4-of-7 from the 3-point line. Jessica Wall, UNCA freshman guard, made the only 3-pointer of the first half for the Bulldogs.
Asheville’s shooting improved in the second half including four 3-pointers from Chatori Major, junior guard. She finished the game as the Bulldogs’ top scorer with 18 points. K.J. Weaver, UNCA junior center, nearly earned a double-double with eight points and 12 rebounds.
“There are positives. We have two more home games left and we have room to grow and learn from this,” Kirkpatrick said.
UNCA closed the gap to three with 5:10 to play, but never truly challenged for the win. The Bulldogs collected their fourth conference loss, dropping into a tie with the Liberty Flames who defeated Longwood University.
UNCA’s men’s team also began Saturday in a tie for first place of the Big South Conference. The men’s regular season wrapped up with the first four spots to be determined. The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers wanted to leap over the Bulldogs for the upcoming tournament.
UNCA seniors Sam Hughes and John Cannon received honors and started the game for the Bulldogs. Cannon quickly scored his only two points for the game before a substitution for Will Weeks, redshirt junior forward.
“It’s interesting how senior days and homecoming events and things like that work. For some teams, it generates a lot of emotion and you see them play terrific. For others, sometimes you can get a little sidetracked and have distractions over the course of a weekend,” Nick McDevitt, UNCA men’s head coach, said.
The Bulldogs looked ready for the game and took an early six-point lead, 17-11. Dwayne Sutton, freshman guard, drilled a 3-pointer to continue his hot streak that earned him last week’s Big South Freshman of the Week honors.
The Chanticleers responded with multiple offensive rebounds and outscored the Bulldogs 32-12 for the rest of the first half. The halftime score settled at 29-43 with Coastal Carolina shooting 60 percent from the field, six of which were 3-pointers.
Sloppy play plagued the Bulldogs early in the second half and the lead ballooned to 20 points, 29-49.
“Tonight we just dug ourselves too big of a hole,” McDevitt said. “We shouldn’t have put ourselves in that position.”
A temporary delay in the game, due to a broken stadium curtain which let the setting sun shine on the court, allowed the Bulldogs to regroup and begin a slow climb back into the game.
All five of the Bulldogs’ regular starters scored and a free throw by Kevin Vannatta, sophomore guard, brought Asheville within four points with 8:34 remaining. The Bulldogs struggled from the free-throw line, only earning 7-of-14.
“The second half, I thought we played really well,” McDevitt said. “It shows your true character to get down 20 to a team as good as Coastal Carolina and have enough toughness to get ourselves back in the game.”
Shivaughn Wiggins, the Chanticleers’ junior point guard, refused to give up the lead. He scored 17 of Coastal’s final 25 points and finished tied for the game high total of 24 points. UNCA’s Dwayne Sutton also scored 24 points and gathered 8 rebounds.
Wiggins missed a free throw with only eight seconds left and Kevin Vannatta fired a long 3-point attempt that could have won the game for the Bulldogs, but went askew.
UNCA finishes the regular season one game back in a tie for third in the Big South Conference. With the win, Coastal earned the number three seed in the upcoming conference tournament. Asheville drops to the fourth spot.