Jones scores 24, UNC-Asheville advances to the NCAA Tournament

Jake Wilson, [email protected], Sports Writer

CHARLOTTE – The UNC-Asheville Bulldogs defeated the Campbell Fighting Camels 77-73 to advance to their fifth NCAA Tournament in school history. 

Entering Sunday’s matchup, the Fighting Camels were winners of three straight, including wins over No. 2 Longwood and No. 3 Radford. The last time these two schools met in the Big South Championship was in 1989, where the Bulldogs won 93-78. 

The first half was a back and forth battle. Junior guard Fletcher Abee started off strong after scoring 11 of Asheville’s first 13 points. 2023 Big South Player of the Year Drew Pember added 13 points and five rebounds as the Bulldogs found themselves down by three at halftime. 

“Their coach said they wouldn’t be scared and they definitely weren’t. They came out and executed their plan as well as they could. It was a fight. It was a war,” said senior forward Drew Pember. 

The Bulldogs were without a second half field goal until junior forward Nick McMullen hit a layup with 15:38 left to go. Meanwhile, Campbell forward Jay Pal’s efficient scoring in the first minutes of the second half helped give the Camels a 54-44 lead with 11:08 remaining. 

“We had been in that situation before. In the first game of the season we were down 10 with a couple minutes left at UCF and found a way to win,” said head men’s basketball coach Mike Morrell. 

After being down by as much as 14, senior guard Tajion Jones helped lead a 23 to 7 run to give Asheville the edge with one minute remaining. 

“He’s had more to do with the flipping of this program than I have. I’m just really grateful for Tae,” Morrell said. 

After a pair of three-point misses by Campbell forward Anthony Dell’Orso, the Bulldogs secured the victory. Drew Pember finished with 29 points and eight rebounds while Tajion Jones added 24 points after shooting five of nine behind the arc. 

“There was a lot of things going through my head. All I said to myself was ‘I can’t lose this’. The rim opened up for me once I hit a couple shots and it just went from there,” said senior guard Tajion Jones. 

This win gives Mike Morrell his first NCAA Tournament appearance as a head coach at UNC-Asheville. As an assistant coach at VCU and Texas, Morrell went to six NCAA Tournaments and had a record of 2-6.

“The experience I had at VCU is everything to me. That’s where I learned I really wanted to be a head coach,” Morrell said. “I lean on everything I learned from there. I worked for the best and worked with the best. 

According to ESPN Bracketology expert Joe Lunardi, the Bulldogs are projected to be a No. 16 seed. They will find out their tournament opponent next Sunday on the CBS March Madness Selection Show.