Bulldogs show toughness in weekend doubleheaders

Charles Heard
Sports Editor
cheard@unca.edu

Freshman guard Macio Teague led the team with six assists against the Camels. Photo by Charlie Heard

Head coach of UNC Asheville’s men’s basketball team Nick McDevitt and head coach of the women’s team Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick both said their team identities are best described as tough and the teams have proven that over the past two weekends of home court doubleheaders.

The men and women’s basketball teams played doubleheaders the past two weekends in Kimmel arena and demonstrated their unwavering grit against their conference foes.

                    

Jan. 21 Doubleheader: (W) UNCA Bulldogs Vs. Liberty Flames   (M) UNCA Bulldogs Vs. Campbell Camels

On Jan. 21, the women kicked off the double header against higher ranked Liberty University.

The Bulldogs quickly drew off of the home court energy and went up 12-0 in three minutes and ended the first ten minute quarter with a hefty 18-8 lead. However, with a series of steals, Bulldog turnovers and fouls, Liberty was able to recuperate and shut down the Bulldogs in the second quarter, scoring 13 to the home team’s three.

The game was tied at halftime — the teams went into their locker rooms, the momentum accompanying the Liberty squad. UNCA sophomore guard Jessica Wall stole it back though and gave the Bulldogs the lead they’d keep till the final buzzer with a three pointer two minutes into the second half.

The Bulldogs improved their Big South record with the 64-54 home win. Chatori Major, UNCA’s senior guard, led the team with 19 points. Head coach Kirkpatrick said Major has had to carry a heavy load on the team due to many injuries. Kirkpatrick said that Major performed well against Liberty.

“Chatori Major has had to do the lion’s share of the shooting, she shot 20 times today and I told her before the game that she’d be shooting that much all season,” Kirkpatrick said. “Even though she didn’t make all those, she made some big shots for us.”

Kirkpatrick said the win could primarily be attributed to everyone winning their role.

“All of our players played their roles to the best of their ability. Dengokl [sophomore guard Sonora Dengokl] was eight for ten from the free throw line, she played aggressive,” Kirkpatrick said. “And KJ Weaver on the defensive end, she is a heart and effort player, what she does doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.”

Dengokl put up 14 points and came away with a team high: four steals. Major came second in that column with three. As a team, the Bulldogs made 16 of 23 from the foul line which greatly outweighed Liberty’s three for three.

The men’s team continued the doubleheader against Campbell University and met the tough standard for home court play established by the women’s victory. Campbell is a high scoring team, averaging 76 points per game before this matchup led by the sixth highest scorer nationwide, guard Chris Clemmons. Coach McDevitt said in order to win, the Bulldogs had to lock down Clemmons and forward Shane Whitfield.

“They’re all conference players and if you don’t keep track of where they are with the ball, they can start scoring in bunches,” McDevitt said.

The Bulldogs controlled the game from start to finish, never losing the lead after junior guard Kevin Vannatta put the home team up 7-4 with his first three pointer.

The Bulldogs dominated the Camels in intensity. For starters, the Bulldogs scored 20 points off of turnovers, Campbell scored four off of turnovers. Defensively, the Bulldogs outclassed the Camels, holding the usually high scoring team to 56 and Clemons to 10.

UNCA junior guard Ahmad Thomas led the team’s offense with his dominance down low scoring 26 points. However, Vannatta was the catalyst of intensity for the Bulldogs in this matchup.

After being fouled early in the first period, a foul for which the perpetrator received a technical, Vanatta turned Kimmel Arena’s intensity dial up. After sinking two of his three free throws, Vannatta began to play as if he had a personal vendetta to settle with the Campbell gentlemen. Coach McDevitt said Vannatta is the energy and effort leader of the team.

Bulldogs captain Kevin Vannatta drives the lane then shoots a fade away. Photo by Charlie Heard.

“He’s for sure our go-to guy. He’s team captain, brings it every day, he’s an energy guy and one of those guys you like to have on your team,” McDevitt said.

The captain led his troops from the front line, playing 37 of the game’s 40 minutes, more than anyone else. Vannatta scored 13, had nine rebounds and five assists. The stats don’t do his performance justice though.

Vannatta’s big plays came at key moments to propel the team forward. For example, with seven minutes left in the first half, Vannatta stole the ball and dished it to Thomas who slammed it on the fast break which ignited the team and the crowd for the remainder of the half. The Bulldogs defeated the Camels 72-56. Coach McDevitt said the Bulldog’s defense was a highlight of their play that game.

“I was happy with our defense. We did a good job with shutting down their top scorers tonight,” McDevitt said. “Because of that we were able to hold Campbell who averages about 75 points a game to 56.”

 

Jan. 28 Doubleheader: (M) UNCA Bulldogs Vs. Radford Highlanders (W) UNCA Bulldogs Vs. Radford Highlanders

This past weekend’s doubleheader began with the men’s Big South Conference matchup against Radford university and the Bulldogs demonstrated once again why they are sitting at the top spot in the Big South along with Winthrop and Liberty.

In a classic, exciting team effort, the Bulldogs defeated Radford 80-69 with five players in double figure points.

Senior forward Giacomo Zilli, returning from injury, played phenomenal post-up basketball scoring 11 and tallying three blocks. Freshman guard Macio Teague also found his way to double figure points with 13 and senior guard David Robertson’s impeccable shooting got him there as well, making two for three from behind the ark and five for six from the foul line.

Thomas and Vannatta once again led the “dogs” pursuit to victory. Vannatta stayed on the court the longest, leading by example and scoring 16 points. Thomas completed a double double with 19 points and 13 rebounds. McDevitt said the team scored so proficiently because they stuck to their principle.

“We talk a lot about controlling what we can control and on the offensive end that’s being unselfish and sharing the basketball,” McDevitt said. “Sharing the ball, ball movement and body movement made our offense click. That’s why we wound up with five guys in double figures and anytime you do that you’re awfully difficult to defend.”

Thomas said the Bulldogs emphasize scoring down low and they executed that game plan well.

“We just moved the ball and did what we do, paint touches,” Thomas said. “It’s something we preached all week, move the ball, get a lot of crosses and get in the paint.”

Midway through the first half, Radford orchestrated a slight comeback. The slip began with eight minutes left in the first half when the Bulldogs had a 29 to 13 lead. Once Asheville reached 29, Radford took a timeout and the home team went temporarily cold.

When play resumed the Bulldogs ended up on the wrong end of a ten point swing. The Bulldogs fortunately recovered and the halftime score was 39 to 31. McDevitt said the team needs to keep its focus and not allow comebacks from big leads.

“We relaxed a little bit then, we were playing like we were up 16. Obviously we were up 16 but when you play like that the other team takes advantage of you relaxing,” McDevitt said. “We were like that for about three or four minutes. And a good team like Radford can do a lot in that amount of time.”

The Bulldogs allowed 38 more to Radford in the second half but fortunately that was allowable because UNCA’s Bulldogs put up an impressive 41. With the dominant win, the Bulldogs elevated themselves back into first place in the Big South Conference.

Sonora Dengokl shoots over big Radford defense. Photo by Charles Heard

The rule of best for last applied to these four games in an unconventional sense. Although it was the one loss of the three games, the women’s contest against the Big South’s top ranked Radford this past Saturday was the most competitive and exciting matchup of the four.

Kirkpatrick said facing off against a much larger Radford, the Bulldogs were fighting for their points from the start while Radford’s baskets were more easily won.

“We let them get some easy buckets,” Kirkpatrick said. “We were having to work for all of ours for the majority of the game and we gave them some easy layups.”

UNCA fought hard in the first quarter and led for most of it, though it ended at 17 all. But, Radford’s size was exemplified in the second quarter as they were able to limit the Bulldogs to only seven points and score 16 more of their own.

However, the Bulldogs toughness showed in the second half behind senior guard Chatori Major. Major scored 11 in the third quarter, lighting up the court with three from behind the ark. Major’s points helped the Bulldogs come within five at the end of the third.

The game still felt like an uphill battle in the fourth for the Bulldogs. They continued to grind for points while Radford scored just enough to stay ahead rather easily. The Bulldogs were aflame with intensity though, fueled by the crowd (especially their predecessors cheering them on from courtside) and even though chipping away at the deficit was slow work, they worked it down behind bad-ass paint play by senior center KJ Weaver.

Weaver showed up in the fourth quarter big time and demonstrated what a senior can bring in terms of toughness. She took a page out of the Radford book and employed her size, scoring eight points, playing tight defense and earning a great block to send the game into overtime.

The arena was in an uproar after the unforeseen comeback. The Bulldogs went behind in overtime but were able to bring it within two and get the ball back with 12 seconds left.

The unfortunate result of the game was a two point, 64-62  loss for the Bulldogs after a travel was called on Major on their final possession and the ball was turned over, but the toughness of the Bulldogs to hang with the number one team in the conference through a long, brutal game showed the validity of Kirkpatrick’s assessment.

 

Teams’ Identities and Standings

The men also played an away game last Thursday against Presbyterian university and won 73-47. After the three game win streak, the Bulldogs are 16-7 overall and 8-2 in conference, which ties them for first place.

Coach McDevitt said his team’s home wins are important victories in the season campaign but it is their mentality on the road which makes them tough.

“Toughness defines this team, this team has been able to win some hard tough games on the road. Winning road games in college basketball is really difficult and for this team to have a winning record on the road speaks volumes,” McDevitt said. “When we go face other teams who are making a run, they’re at home, their crowd’s into it and it’s loud, our guys stay together. They’re mentally and physically tough and you have to do that to be an upper echelon team in the Big South.”

The women also played Presbyterian last week and won 67-60. They are currently 10-9 and 4-4 in conference, placing them in seventh place in the conference.

Coach Kirkpatrick’s team has suffered multiple season-ending injuries, she said her team shows its strength in how it has continued to compete at a high level despite this.

“We are persistent and tough. It takes a mature player to keep doing what you’re doing while you’re not getting affirmed by a result and we have to continue to play intense even when we don’t get the affirmation of a win,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’ve told them, ‘keep doing what you’re doing’ because we are playing some of our best basketball of the year even with the injury riddled roster.”

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