Editor's Note: UNC Asheville Athletics Communications Director Mike Gore will be blogging as the men's basketball team is on the road for the next eight days as the Bulldogs play Ohio State, Northeastern and St. John's. Here is the final blog of the trip as Asheville takes on St. John's.
Not a bad way to end a long road trip.
Our Bulldogs pulled out one of the best wins in school history as UNC Asheville rallied past St. John's of the Big East Conference, 72-65.
It's our first ever win over a Big East team and ironically it's the same exact score as the Syracuse game in last year's NCAA Tournament.
We spend a quiet day around the hotel as we prepare for the game. Coach Biedenbach chooses not to take our shoot-around time. It took us an hour to get to St. John's yesterday for practice due to traffic, and we're just going to rest.
Our pre-game meal is at Aldo's II Pizza Parlor and its good yet again. Pizza and chicken and it's quite good. I can tell our guys are focused and ready to go.
We decide to leave at 5 p.m., despite the start time at 7:30. We think it might take an hour to get to St. John's with the traffic. Incredibly, the traffic isn't bad at all and we get there in 25 minutes. The earliest we've been to a game in a long, long time.
I'm glad to get there early to make sure everything goes right with our radio broadcast. St. John's has been nice enough to run an Ethernet cable. However, it doesn't work when I test our equipment. But the folks at St. John's are on it quickly and get me hooked up.
I'm joined tonight on the radio by former Bulldog great and a member of our Hall of Fame Bamford Jones. Bam started helping me out a few times last year and has gotten the broadcasting bug. He takes the train up from Washington D.C. and joins me for the broadcast.
For the second straight game, a player who hasn't played all year is going to be in the line-up. Jamal Branch, a transfer from Texas A&M, is a talented guard who will make his St. John's debut this evening.
We're really concerned about St. John's athleticism. They are incredibly athletic and go up-and-down the floor. Forward Chris Obekpa has blocked 58 shots coming into the game. He will create some problems down low.
The start of the game isn't good. We don't get back in transition and St. John's really makes us pay with easy lay-ups and dunks. We have some initial success early in the game scoring inside but then St. John's starts blocking some shots, and we struggle to score.
The lead balloons to 38-21 late in the first half and it looks like we're going to get blown out. But some turnovers by St. John's in the final minute of play allow us to make a 5-0 run and suddenly we trail 40-30.
Bamford makes some great points that if we can get back a little better on defense and make some sharper passes we can get back in the game. I get asked by about three different photographers from New York newspapers if Keith Hornsby's dad, Bruce Hornsby is at the game. I have heard about four different fans yell at Keith - "That's just the way it is Hornsby." Not exactly original.
The second half starts frustrating as we miss a couple of easy shots after making some good passes and St. John's now leads 45-30.
However, we're starting to execute on offense and we're doing a great job getting back on defense. Suddenly St. John's is having a tough time on scoring and we only trail 54-42 at the 12:10 mark.
And then the comeback begins. We go on a 13-1 run to tie the game at 55-55. Jeremy Atkinson is hitting shots and getting every rebound in site. D.J. Cunningham has a big dunk over Obekpa that seems to get all the Bulldogs confident.
We trail 58-55 when Atkinson knocks down back-to-back 3-pointers to lead 61-58. Trent Meyer comes up with a big block and feeds Keith Hornsby who dunks. Suddenly we lead 65-58 with 4:33 left.
But then we get a little tentative on offense and St. John's gets more active on offense. They draw fouls and suddenly the game is tied at 65-65 with two minutes left.
I'm worried that we're going to lose another close game. But before I can get too worried, Hornsby knocks down a clutch 3-pointer with 1:30 left to give us the lead for good at 68-65.
St. John's misses on the offensive end. We have the ball and we run a lot of time off the clock but turn the ball over with 33 seconds remaining.
St. John's comes down and we play great defense. And suddenly Trent Meyer comes up with a huge steal with 12 seconds left. He gets the ball to Atkinson who gets fouled. It's a one-and-one situation. Both of Jeremy's free throws are perfect to put us up 70-65. St. John's puts up a shot and misses. Atkinson comes down with the rebound, naturally and is fouled with 1.8 seconds left. He makes both free throws to seal the victory and give him a career-high 31 points.
If you listened to the broadcast, I got a little excited. OK I got incredibly excited!!! And I hope I didn't hurt anybody's ear drum.
What a win!!! This is one of the best in school history. St. John's isn't going to win the Big East but the Red Storm is 8-3 coming into the game. They've won seven of their last eight contests. Make it seven of their last nine.
We out-rebound St. John's 40-30, outscore them 44-28 in the paint and 17-4 in second-chance points. Freshman Will Weeks just misses his first double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds.
It's a win these guys will never forget and I know I won't. To come back from 17 down at a Big East school is truly amazing and will make for a happy plane flight tomorrow afternoon.
We have a long season ahead of us, and we need to keep improving. But there's a lot of potential with this club and the future is very exciting.
We play Bluefield next Sunday (Dec. 30) afternoon at 2 p.m. And then it's three more road games, including a tough game at Charlotte on Jan. 2.
We're going to try and sleep but it'll be hard. I'm also anxious to see the New York newspapers tomorrow. It should be fun!!!
I hope you've enjoyed this blog, and I'll have some more throughout the basketball season.