For the third time in six years – and for the first time since 2012 – UNC-Asheville (22-11) is going dancing. Yes, the Bulldogs beat Winthrop, 77-68, in the Big South Championship on Sunday to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
UNC-Asheville actually trailed 33-24 at halftime but outscored Winthrop 53-35 in the second half to win by double digits, this after freshman guard Dwayne Sutton erupted for 25 points and 18 rebounds.
The Bulldogs, who have been seeded No. 16 in their three previous NCAA Tournament appearances, will find out their next opponent later this week during Selection Sunday.
“It’s been great,” head coach Nick McDevitt said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “Our guys are certainly enjoying it and having a good time. We’re able to take a couple days off here because we’re one of the first teams in. We’re going get back to work here in a day or two.”
UNC-Asheville relies heavily on its starters, who scored 71 of 77 points against Winthrop. Four Bulldogs played 37+ minutes of action. All played solid defense, especially in the second half.
That, of course, was by design. UNC-Asheville is a defense-first program, which can sometimes be a tough sell with recruits. After all, defense is about effort and energy. There’s not a lot of glory and glamour in it.
“Well, we talk to (recruits) about (our philosophy) during the recurrent process, to be honest with you,” McDevitt sad. “We show them film of how we play, how we see them fitting in (with) what we do and the style of play we’re going to play on both ends of the floor. That’s something they kind of know before they get on campus. That’s how we’re going to win games – or the way we’re going to try to win games.”
Indeed, it’s not uncommon for UNC-Asheville to play Western Carolina one game and Duke the next.
“You can’t reinvent the wheel in a week,” said McDevitt, who has spent the last 19 years at UNC-Asheville as a player or coach. “That’s the biggest thing for us. We have to find a style of play thats conducive to winning home-and-home games with a crosstown rival for us, like Western Carolina, but also the following week you may go play North Carolina and Queens down in Charlotte the same week. So in a short amount of time, you go from playing a mid-major school to a high-major school to a non-Division-1 school. I just think that for schools like ourselves, it’s important that we’re able to identify what it is that can make us successful and keep from trying to reinvent who we are 29, 30 different times throughout the year.”
The Bulldogs, who have won three straight and eight of 11, have five players averaging double figures: Dylan Smith (13.5 points per game), Sutton (12.0), Kevin Vannatta (11.7), Ahmad Thomas (11.2) and Sam Hughes (10.9).
Nine of UNC-Asheville’s 11 losses have come by five points or fewer. The last four have come by six points combined.