The UNC Asheville Bulldogs traveled Saturday to Campbell University and won their third straight game to remain alone in first place of the Big South Conference. The Bulldogs held off a late surge by the Fighting Camels and pulled away to win 81-71.
“This is a very good team we came up short against today,” said Kevin McGeehan, Campbell head coach, in a post game interview.
UNCA not only tops the Big South Conference standings in wins, it also plays some of the best defense in the country. The Bulldogs executed a half-court trap and swarming defense that caused 19 Campbell turnovers, 16 of which were UNCA steals. The Bulldogs rank in the top 10 in the nation in steals.
The Camels led much of the first half thanks to Asheville’s own turnovers and Campbell’s 9-0 run at the ten-minute mark. The Bulldogs responded with its own run and led at halftime 34-32.
“I’m impressed with the way Campbell has played in the first half,” said Kyle B. Kallander, Big South Conference commissioner. Kallander spoke about the upcoming conference tournaments, including the women’s tournament in Kimmel Arena at UNCA.
The Bulldogs also rank in the top 10 nationally for 3-point defense and it showed as the Camels struggled to hit 1-of-10 3-pointers in the first half. UNCA made a third of their first-half 3-pointers and shot 47.8 percent from the field.
In the second half, the Bulldogs turned up the defensive pressure and built a double digit lead. Sam Hughes, senior forward, scored his 17 points by the eight-minute mark. Four other Bulldogs finished the game with double digit point totals; Dylan Smith, freshman guard (17), Kevin Vannatta, sophomore guard (16), Will Weeks, redshirt junior (12) and Ahmad Thomas, sophomore guard (10).
Chris Clemons, Campbell freshman and one of the highest scoring freshmen in the nation, brought the Camels back to life after a Vannatta 3-pointer gave UNCA its largest lead of the game 67-54. Clemons scored, got a steal and hit two free throws coming out of a timeout with 5:23 left to play. UNCA’s Smith answered with four points of his own.
When Ahmad Thomas fouled out, Campbell cut the lead to seven, but Dylan Smith and Will Weeks connected for two beautiful plays, two of Smith’s five assists for the game. Campbell got as close as four points, but free throws from Smith, Weeks and Vannatta sealed the win for the Bulldogs.
“We just turned the ball over a couple too many times,” McGeehan said.
UNCA led in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and rebounds. UNCA defeated Campbell University for the eighth straight meeting as Big South opponents. The Bulldogs remain the only conference team Campbell has not beaten since returning to the Big South Conference.