The UNC Asheville men’s basketball team clinched second seed in the Big South Conference championship Saturday, winning the final game of the regular season.
The matchup against Liberty featured two of the three teams tied for first in the Big South at 14-3. Bulldog fans filled 2,928 of Kimmel arena’s 3,000 seats in anticipation of the match between the conference leaders.
“Having close to 3,000 people created a loud, raucous environment the team fed off of,” head coach Nick McDevitt said. “We had a couple of back-to-back plays that got the crowd going and you could really see how that pushed our players in the last seven to eight minutes.”
The Bulldogs trailed the Flames 26-25 at the half, but won the game 63-45.
“They were trapping us in the post in the first half and we weren’t making them pay for doubling us,” McDevitt said. “Once we started to move the ball and our bodies better in the second half we started to get some free shots.”
Ahmad Thomas emboldened the Bulldogs’ turnaround, scoring 23 of the team’s 38 second half points. He went four-for-four from behind the arc and shot 100 percent from the foul line in the final period. Scoring a career-high 31 points in the game, he topped his 25 point performance in the Bulldogs’ loss to Gardner-Webb on Thursday.
The Big South named Thomas the conference player of the week on Sunday.
Bulldog freshman guard Macio Teague also scored in double digits, finishing with 12 points and 10 rebounds in his second double-double of the season.
Conference Championships Seeding and Outlook
Winthrop, the third team, tied for first before Saturday, defeated Presbyterian, also closing out the season at 15-3. Though dubbed co-champions, Winthrop clinched the top seed over UNCA heading into the conference championships. The tiebreaker is determined by the teams’ records against each other, then the next highest seed and so on until the an advantage is reached.
With a win apiece against each other and both having swept Liberty this season, it came down to Winthrop’s two wins against Gardner-Webb trumping the Bulldogs’ single win against the fourth place team.
The conference championships will begin Tuesday as the bottom four teams compete to advance into the quarterfinals. With the second seed, the Bulldogs’ first championship game will be against the winner of the first round matchup between the Campbell Camels (7) and the Presbyterian Blue Hose (10).