UNC Asheville’s basketball doubleheader against Gardner-Webb University looked to be a complete disappointment at halftime of the men’s game Saturday. UNCA limped to a 9-point deficit after their first 20 minutes, following a missed buzzer beater at the end of the women’s game earlier in the afternoon at Kimmel Arena.
“We were down at halftime, but I didn’t think it was because of effort or what we were doing on the defensive end. We were shooting poorly,” said Nick McDevitt, coach of the men’s basketball team.
The Bulldogs started the second half with the scoreboard reading 23-32. A quick turnover and fast break dunk foretold of the excitement ahead, but a good comeback needs a moment of doubt. GWU upped their lead to 13 points, 38-25 with 18:10 remaining.
“We knew our shooting percentages couldn’t do anything but go up,” McDevitt said. “We’ve got guys that can make shots, and when we made shots and continued to defend, the scoreboard changed.”
UNCA used the next four minutes to go on a 10-0 run to bring the score to 35-38. GWU responded and maintained the lead until Dylan Smith, freshman Bulldogs guard, made a 3-pointer and tied the score at 47 with ten minutes remaining. On the Bulldogs next possession, Ahmad Thomas, sophomore Bulldogs guard, was fouled while getting the offensive rebound from a missed jumper by Dylan Smith, freshman Bulldogs guard. Thomas hit both free throws to pull UNCA ahead for the first time since nine minutes to go in the first half.
“It’s great coming back like that,” Thomas said.
Thomas ended the game with a game-high 21 points, 12 of which came from the free throw line, and 12 rebounds. Thomas even bled for the win.
“He got elbowed in the mouth and cut his gum up,” said Tim White, UNCA’s head athletic trainer. “I was able to get him back quick.”
The game’s most contentious moment came at the 6:11 mark of the second half when, with UNCA trailing again at 53-54, Kevin Vannatta gave a hard foul on Isaiah Ivey, a GWU guard. The referee originally called it a flagrant foul which could remove Vannatta from the game. After the referee team watched the replay, Vannatta remained in the game, but the refs levied an additional technical foul on UNCA’s bench.
Gardner-Webb missed both technical foul shots, and McDevitt showed his vindication by waving for the crowd to increase the volume as his team increased their resolve.
“Tonight was an emotional game. Gardner-Webb is a good team,” McDevitt said. “We hung in there and made some plays down the stretch that were important for us.”
UNCA outscored GWU 22-13 during the rest of the game, making the final score a 75-69 win. Sam Hughes, Kevin Vannatta and Dylan Smith joined Thomas with double-digit points for the game. UNCA finished the night at 74.4 percent from the free throw line.
The Bulldogs travel next to High Point University Wednesday night.
“Each game in league play is important,” McDevitt said. “The one coming Wednesday at High Point is really tough.”