ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Two teams picked to finish toward the bottom of the South Division in the Big South Conference are instead tied for first place and square off Wednesday night as UNC Asheville welcomes Winthrop to Kimmel Arena starting at 7 p.m.
Wednesday’s game will be broadcast locally on WWNC Radio (570-AM) with the pre-game show starting at 6:30 p.m. Fans can also watch the game for free on the Big South Digital Network under the multimedia tag at uncabulldogs.com.
In the Big South Conference preseason poll, Asheville was a pick for fourth place while Winthrop was picked to finish in fifth place of the six-team division. Both teams come into tonight’s game tied for first place in the South with a 3-1 league mark. The Bulldogs (9-9) have won eight of their last 10 games and are coming off a dramatic 80-76 victory at preseason favorite Charleston Southern Saturday night behind 35 points from freshman guard Andrew Rowsey.
The Eagles (9-7) are coming off a dramatic win of their own as they edged Coastal Carolina, 73-72 in overtime on the road on Saturday. Winthrop smashed CSU a week ago, 85-68 in Rock Hill and also own a road win at Presbyterian College.
First-year coach Nick McDevitt is very impressed with what he’s seen of the Eagles so far.
“Winthrop has been playing very good basketball all year and is extremely talented and well-coached,” stated McDevitt. “They’ve got four players scoring in double figures, play good defense and are playing with some real confidence. Our guys are really going to have to play well to have a chance at winning Wednesday night.
“We had a great win at Charleston Southern, but Winthrop beat them (CSU) by 17 points,” added McDevitt. “Winthrop beat us pretty handily last year in Rock Hill. We’ll need everyone playing well against these guys.”
Andrew Rowsey continues to leads the Bulldogs in scoring with a 17.2 average. He’s sixth in the league in scoring and eighth nationally for freshmen scoring. Rowsey has scored in double figures in a Big South-leading 14 consecutive games. Jaron Lane is averaging 12.8 points per game but is coming off a season-low five points at CSU on Saturday. Senior center D.J. Cunningham has a 10.5 scoring and is leading the Big South in rebounding (9.9) and blocked shots (50). Cunningham has become just the second player in Big South history and first at Asheville to record more than 700 career rebounds and 200 blocked shots. He has 702 rebounds and 230 blocks going into Wednesday’s action. Cunningham needs just two rebounds to move into fourth place on Asheville’s career list and Division I all-time leader past Brent Keck (703).
Winthrop is led by junior guard Keon Moore with a 12.8 scoring mark. He’s joined by freshman guard Keon Johnson with a 12.3 average, followed by junior guard Andre Smith (11.4) and senior forward Joab Jerome (11.1).
Winthrop leads the all-time series, 34-31 as the team split home wins last year. The Bulldogs recorded a 69-56 win at Kimmel Arena on Feb. 6 last season. Asheville trailed for much of the first half before going on a late run to trail 28-27. The Bulldogs took the lead early in the second half and went on to win behind 21 points from Keith Hornsby and 20 from Jeremy Atkinson. Asheville was 23-of-24 from the free throw line in the second half. The teams me in the final game of the regular season in Rock Hill, and Winthrop downed the Bulldogs handily, 70-61. The Eagles’ defense limited Asheville to just .318 shooting from the field and simply dominated the Bulldogs for 40 minutes.
UNC Asheville has won eight of its last 10 games and is 5-1 at home.
Three of the Bulldogs first four BSC contests have been decided by four points or less.
Asheville is 18-3 against Big South Conference teams at Kimmel Arena.
The Bulldogs have out-rebounded eight of their last 10 opponents.
D.J. Cunningham has grabbed at least 10 rebounds in the last three games. He is second in the Big South in double-doubles with six.
Asheville won at Charleston Southern on Saturday despite trailing at halftime. The victory marked the first time the Bulldogs had won this season after trailing at intermission. Asheville had led at halftime of the previous nine games.
The Bulldogs lead the Big South in free throw shooting at .742. Asheville has been above 83 percent from the charity stripe in three of the last four games.
Asheville shot a season-high 50 percent (8-of-16) from long distance on Saturday. The Bulldogs also made a season-low eight turnovers in the contest.