CONWAY, S.C. - UNC Asheville's two-year reign as Big South Conference champions came to a disappointing end Tuesday afternoon in the first round of the league tournament at Coastal Carolina.
Longwood (8-24), the sixth seed from the North Division, made its Big South Tournament debut a successful one as the Lancers led wire-to-wire en route to an 87-72 win over the third-seeded Bulldogs from the South Division. Longwood will now play VMI Thursday afternoon at 2 p.m. in the quarterfinals.
The Lancers were led by freshman guard Tristan Carey with 21 points and six steals. Karl Ziegler and Lucas Woodhouse added 17 points each, while David Robinson chipped in 15 points.
Asheville's season ended with a 16-16 overall record and lost five of its last six games. The Bulldogs were led by senior forward Jeremy Atkinson with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Keith Hornsby finished with 14 points, five assists, five rebounds and four steals. Will Weeks and Jon Nwannunu chipped in 11 points each.
"This is a very disappointing loss," explained Asheville head coach Eddie Biedenbach. "We just didn't play very well today or the last part of the season. Our guys battled hard in the second half, but we didn't play good enough defense in the first half and turned the ball over way too much.
"I hate it for our guys as they worked hard the whole year but we just didn't run offense the way we should have in the first half," added Biedenbach. "When you fall behind like we did, you have to play almost perfect to come back, and we didn't do that in the second half."
Longwood made its first 25 free throws of the game and went 25-of-26 from the charity stripe for .962. The Lancers shot .474 (27-of-57) from the field and .421 (8-of-19) from long range. Asheville shot a dismal .361 (26-of-72) from the field and .118 from (2-of-17) behind the arc.
Carey dominated the first half both on offense and defense. He scored 17 points in the opening half and had six steals. The All-Rookie guard knocked down three long treys in the opening half and also had two blocked shots. Longwood shot .500 (16-of-32) from the field in the opening half and .467 from the three-point line (7-of-15).
The Lancers led 33-28 with five minutes to go in the first half before outscoring the Bulldogs 14-5 to sprint to a 47-33 lead. Longwood settled for a 47-35 halftime lead.
Asheville had all 13 of its turnovers in the opening half, allowing the Lancers to score nine points off those turnovers.
"We didn't take care of the ball in the first half and did a poor job of guarding their shooters," admitted Biedenbach. "We just built too big of a hole for ourselves."
In the second half, Asheville made several runs but each time Longwood would get a key bucket or defensive to keep the Bulldogs at bay.
Asheville scored the first eight points of the second half to close to 47-43 with 15:49 left. But Robinson hit a trey to get the lead back to 50-43.
Longwood built the lead to 69-57 with 6:39 remaining before Asheville made one more run. The Bulldogs went on an 11-2 run led by seven points from Atkinson to close to 71-68 with 3:41 left.
But Michael Wessens scored on a three-point play to get the lead to 74-68 and Longwood was on its way to the victory.
As the final horn sounded, the Lancers players and coaches celebrated like they had won the Big South championship.
"I want to congratulate Longwood for playing so well today," said Biedenbach. "They played with a lot of emotion and did the things you need to do to win in a tournament. We didn't look past them because Longwood played us tough at our place (a 69-66 Asheville win on Jan. 19). We knew this would be a tough game and it certainly was. Longwood deserves all the credit today. They played great in all phases of the game."
The loss ended a six-game Bulldog winning streak in Big South Tournament games. It also marked the first time Asheville will not be in the semifinals of the league tournament since the 2006 tourney.