LYNCHBURG, Va. - The UNC Asheville Bulldogs open defense of their Big South Conference championship Saturday night at Liberty staring at 6 p.m. Saturday's game will be televised locally by CSS (Channel 36) and broadcast on WWNC Radio (570-AM).
Asheville (6-8) had a three-game winning streak snapped at Charlotte in overtime on Wednesday, 71-63. The Bulldogs battled back from an eight-point deficit in the final four minutes of regulation to tie the game at 56-56 before falling to a 12-2 49er team in overtime. Asheville shot a season-low 30 percent against Charlotte.
"I really liked our effort at Charlotte and the way we battled, but we didn't play as we could have," commented Asheville head coach Eddie Biedenbach. "We settled for too many outside shots and didn't finish inside like we should have. We had some bad turnovers that we just shouldn't have made.
"But despite some of those things and the fact we shot 30 percent, we still almost won," added Biedenbach. "We're not into moral victories but there were some positives to come out of the Charlotte game."
Asheville quickly put the Charlotte loss behind them as the Bulldogs prepare for the rigors of the Big South Conference. And things begin with a tough road contest against a resurgent Liberty squad. The Flames faced a tough early-season schedule and some injuries. However, LU has won three straight and improved its record to 4-10 after earning a dramatic 63-62 victory at Western Carolina on Monday.
"Liberty is a good ballclub and extremely well-coached," declared Biedenbach. "Any team that goes into Western Carolina and wins has to be a good team. We're going to have to bring a great effort on Saturday at Liberty."
The Bulldogs hope to keep an amazing streak going on Saturday. Asheville is 15-1 in Big South Conference openers under Biedenbach and has won its last seven league openers.
Senior forward Jeremy Atkinson continues to have a great season for the Bulldogs. He earned Big South Player of the Week honors for the second time in his career earlier in the week after scoring 31 points and grabbing nine rebounds at St. John's on Dec. 21. Atkinson leads Asheville in scoring (17.9) and rebounding (7.9). He earned his third double-double of the season at Charlotte with 16 points and a career-best 13 rebounds.
Sophomore guard Keith Hornsby has been playing extremely well for the Bulldogs in the past month and is Asheville's second leading scorer with a 14.4 mark. He's scored in double figures in six straight games and averaging 19 points per game during this stretch. Hornsby leads the Big South in free throw percentage (.947) and 3-point shooting percentage (.459).
Saturday's game is the second of a three-game road trip for the Bulldogs. Asheville finishes this road swing at Gardner-Webb Wednesday night before playing its first league home game next Saturday (Jan. 12) vs. Radford at 2 p.m.
UNC Asheville is 25-2 in its last 27 games against league opponents and that includes BSC tournament games.
The Bulldogs are 15-4 in Big South Conference road games the last two seasons. Asheville was 8-1 last year and has won 10 if its last 11 games on the road against league opponents.
Asheville leads the series against Liberty 29-20 but is 10-12 against the Flames in the Vines Center. The Dogs won both meetings last year, winning 98-75 at Kimmel Arena and 65-51 in Lynchburg. Liberty has won seven of the last 10 games against the Bulldogs in the Vines Center. Asheville head coach Eddie Biedenbach is 26-11 all-time against the Flames.
The Bulldogs had two players reach double-doubles on Wednesday at Charlotte. Jeremy Atkinson scored 16 points and collected a career-best 13 rebounds. Keith Hornsby also had 16 points and grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds. This marks the first time Asheville has had two players with double-doubles since a 114-97 victory over VMI on Feb. 13, 2010 when D.J. Cunningham and Chris Stephenson had double-doubles.
Asheville leads the Big South in blocked shots with 72. They had just 88 last year.
The Bulldogs have won five of their last seven games.
Asheville had had back-to-back Big South Player of the Weeks. Keith Hornsby earned the award right before Christmas on Dec. 17, while Jeremy Atkinson was selected this past week.
Senior forward Jon Nwannunu has scored in double figures in three of the past four games, including a career-high 22 points vs. Bluefield this past Sunday. He's averaged 13.5 points per game in that stretch.
Keith Hornsby has hit 20 consecutive free throws.