The UNC Asheville Bulldogs could not handle the offensive onslaught of the Villanova Wildcats when they faced off in the NCAA tournament in Brooklyn on Friday.
The Wildcats combined low-post dominance with excellent outside shooting to win 86-56.
“They’re a really good basketball team,” said Nick McDevitt, UNCA head coach. “I didn’t think we had to play perfect to win the game.”
The Wildcats, ranked sixth in the nation, earned a two seed, despite not winning the Big East Conference tournament. The Bulldogs earned a 15 seed by winning the Big South Conference tournament championship over Winthrop University.
After keeping the score close through 17 minutes, the Wildcats pulled away at the end of the first half with four consecutive 3-pointers, including a buzzer beater from Ryan Arcidiacono, senior guard. At the half, UNCA trailed by 14, 26-40.
“Villanova cranked it up in the last three minutes,” said Dwayne Sutton, UNCA freshman guard. “That led to momentum going in at halftime. They came out quick to hustle in the second half and that kind of threw us off.”
Dylan Smith, freshman guard, and Sutton, UNCA’s young backcourt, each had four turnovers in the game and the rest of the team added six more.
“We had to play really, really good. Really good and close to perfect and we didn’t,” McDevitt said.
Daniel Ochefu, the Wildcats’ 6’11” senior forward, played on a recently healed ankle and became the offensive focus early in the second half. He sprained his ankle during the Big East tournament, contributing to their loss against Seton Hall University.
“They have some seven-footers down low, which we didn’t have,” Sutton said. “They have some players that bought into the system and shared the ball and bought into the coach’s ways and it’s working for them.”
The Bulldogs went cold on the offensive end as Villanova continued to increase their lead. Dylan Smith led the team with 14 points for the game on 4-of-10 shooting, with four 3-pointers. Sam Hughes, senior forward, and Sutton joined Smith with double-digit scoring totals.
Hughes commented on his final game for the Bulldogs.
“This is a great experience. It’s not the outcome we wanted, but it’s still a day that we all will remember,” Hughes said.
The Wildcats poured in 72 percent of their shots in the second half and amassed a 28-point lead with 2:06 left in the game. Coach McDevitt replaced his starters, who had played most of the game, with bench players including John Cannon, UNCA senior center, also playing his final game.
Villanova ended the game with two 3-pointers and finished with 13-of-29 made from behind the arc. Five Wildcats scored in double-digits and Ochefu had a game-high 17 points.
Despite the loss, the Bulldogs understand they had a great year and look forward to a bright future.
“We all are happy about it. Not happy about today, but happy about what we accomplished and look forward to the future,” Hughes said. “One of our goals at the beginning of the season was to win the conference, and that’s one of the things we did.”
The Bulldogs finished with a 22-12 record for the 2015-16 campaign, the third most wins as a Division 1 team. In the preseason, the Bulldogs were picked to finish seventh in the Big South.
“I addressed the team as soon as the game was over,” McDevitt said. “We’re certainly disappointed in the outcome of the game. But to start the season with a lot of freshmen, not knowing — we really didn’t even know who might start, who might play, how we were going to play, who was going to step up.”
The Bulldogs lost players to transfer in previous years, but Jay Wright, Villanova head coach, said UNCA’s young team could be back in the NCAA tournament in the near future.