ASHEVILLE, N.C. - The UNC Asheville men's basketball team returns home Thursday evening to play the first ever Big South Conference game at Kimmel Arena when the Bulldogs host VMI starting at 7 p.m. Thursday's game will be broadcast on WWNC Radio (570-AM) and be video-streamed at www.uncabulldogs.com.
Asheville (8-6, 3-0 BSC) hopes to remain perfect in Big South Conference play but face a tough VMI (7-7, 2-2 BSC) club that has won two straight games. In addition, the Keydets have won four of the last five times they've played in Asheville. All of those games took place at Justice Center and Thursday's game will be the first ever Big South Conference contest at Kimmel Arena.
The Bulldogs have also won two straight games and both were league contests on the road. Asheville defeated Winthrop in overtime, 73-68 last Saturday and Radford Monday night, 66-56. However, in both games Asheville got off to sluggish starts. The Bulldogs trailed the Eagles 33-28 at halftime and by 14 points early in the second before rallying for the win. On Monday, Radford jumped out to an 8-0 lead before the Bulldogs regrouped.
"We need to come out a little stronger than we've been coming out," stated Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach. "The way VMI scores if we come out sluggish then we could be behind by a lot more than we've been behind the past two games.
"Our effort is fine but we just need to be more consistent and when we play well, we need to sustain that good player for longer period of times," added Biedenbach.
VMI is third in the nation in scoring at 85.9 points per game. The Keydets always present a tough challenge.
"We're going to have to play smart against VMI and not let them dictate play," commented Biedenbach. "We'll need to do a better job on the boards than we've been doing. It's going to take 40 minutes of smart basketball to have a chance at winning Thursday night."
Matt Dickey continues to lead the Bulldogs in scoring with a 15.8 average. He scored a season-low six points at Radford and did not record a field goal for the first time in his career. Chris Stephenson was magnificent for Asheville as he scored a career-high 33 points and collected 10 rebounds. He is now second on the Bulldogs in scoring with a 14.8 average and leads Asheville in BSC games with a 19.7 mark.
VMI (7-7, 2-2 BSC) is being led in scoring by talented junior forward Stan Okoye with a 17.0 scoring average. He tops the club in field goal shooting at .572. Keith Gabriel is one of the best guards in the Big South with a 16.4 points per game mark. The Kedyets are coming off two hard-fought BSC wins last weekend as they slipped past Presbyterian College, 78-70 Saturday in overtime. They knocked off Gardner-Webb, 76-72 Monday night.
UNC Asheville is 4-1 in Kimmel Arena this season and won four straight games.
Monday night's victory at Radford was a big win for Asheville as it raised its record to 3-0 in Big South Conference play with all the wins occurring on the road. However, there were two notable milestones in that game for the Bulldogs. Senior guard J.P. Primm became the school's all-time leader in assists. His pass to Chris Stephenson midway through the first half was his 521st assist, passing K.J. Garland for the all-time lead. Head Coach Eddie Biedenbach became the all-time winningest coach for UNC Asheville basketball on Monday as the victory was the 224th as Bulldog head coach. He moved past Bob Hartman as the all-time leader in victories at Asheville.
The Bulldogs have won nine straight games against Big South Conference opponents dating back to last season.
Asheville has 37 turnovers in the last two games, including a season-high 21 at Winthrop Saturday afternoon.
Chris Stephenson has double-doubles in two of the last three games. He had just one entering the season. Stephenson now has 930 career points.
The Bulldogs have been out-rebounded in five of the last seven games but enjoyed a 39-30 advantage at Radford Monday night.
Reserve forward Jeremy Harn has given Asheville a lift in the last three games. He grabbed a career-high six rebounds at Western Carolina (12-28), tallied a career-best six points at Winthrop (12-31) and then scored four points and blocked two shots at Radford. Harn is 7-of-9 from the field in those three games.
J.P. Primm is about to become the program's all-time leader in steals, as well. He has 211 steals and needs just 13 to move past Andre Smith (223) to become the all-time leader.