by: Alayna Sherk – Staff Writer
A 78-61 victory for the UNC Asheville Bulldogs against the Campbell Camels on Saturday secured the Bulldogs’ second place in the Big South’s South Division.
“We’re hoping Charleston Southern can get a couple more losses so we can get that first place role and another championship,” said DJ Cunningham, senior starting center.
In preseason polls, Campbell was picked to take the North Division of the Big South Conference.
“They aren’t a big team, but Campbell has a very athletic and a very aggressive team,” said Head Coach Eddie Biedenbach.
The Camels were undefeated within their division at home until their game against the Bulldogs.
“Coach was saying in the locker room that there are two Campbell teams,” said Trent Meyer, junior starting guard. “You can’t be sure whether they will show up to play or not. I think we executed well. Campbell likes to trap the ball and we got the ball moving. As a result we played one of our best offensive games of the season.”
UNCA came out strong in the first half. Within the first two minutes, the Bulldogs seized a 7 point lead they never relinquished.
“We think the first four to five minutes of the game set the tone for the rest of the half, if not the game,” said Jeremy Atkinson, senior forward for the Bulldogs. “For the last couple of games we’ve been coming out strong. Campbell came out sluggishly and we took the lead out to 10 or 12. We played as a team, and we played as a unit. When we come out firing on all cylinders we’re all good.”
Though the Bulldogs came out firing on all cylinders, Biedenbach said he sees room for improvement.
“I was a little disappointed at our zone defense,” Biedenbach said. “The guy on the ball was playing zone defense. Everyone else was man-to-man and we let them penetrate, particularly Keith and Trent. They might have been tired, but that’s no excuse. You have to bend your back and make those guys play over top of you.”
In the first half, UNCA allowed 20 points defensively, but the defensive efforts yielded 39 points in the second half.
“A lot of that was us scoring quickly and them having more opportunities in the second half than the first half,” Atkinson said. “There was more penetration allowed, but they were making desperation shots. That’s how they got a lot of points in the second half.”
Demoralizing the Camels was a key point in keeping the lead and taking the win, players said.
“That’s one of the things that helped us,” Cunningham said. “It was hard for them to get that hope back. We came out in the first half, got them down, and came out in the second half and did the same thing. They just couldn’t get back into it.”
In the game against Presbyterian College, Cunningham scored with 12 seconds left to give UNCA the lead and the win. He also snagged his second double-double of the season in the game against Presbyterian with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
“The biggest thing right now is getting back into the swing of things,” Cunningham said. “People don’t realize what kind of a knot goes into you after missing all of last year. Not playing with any of the guys and stepping back into the middle of things. Now I’m focused on getting back into my role.”
Defensively, Cunningham has been essential in claiming rebounds, blocking shots and steals. He leads the team with 62 blocks this season and 149 in his college career placing him sixth on UNCA’s all-time career list. Cunningham missed all of last year’s season due to a knee injury. Now his numbers are as good as they ever were as he adjusts to life back on the court.
Cunningham is not the only player forced to adjust this season.
“We lost six seniors last season. Almost everybody said we had to take a step back,” Biedenbach said. “Well, I feel we had to do that early on in the season, I don’t think we have to do it at the end.”
The Bulldogs are now 13-10 overall and 7-2 in the BSC. Although adjustments have been made, Biedenbach says the Bulldogs are on the right track.
“I think we’re getting a bit more of a mature attitude,” Biedenbach said. “This team has to grow up from not only the emotional side, but the consistent playing side. We took a bit of a step forward today.”