ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Jeremy Atkinson scored a career-high 24 points and added 11 rebounds to lead UNC Asheville to a hard-fought 71-61 season-opening victory win over Western Carolina Friday night at Kimmel Arena.
The Bulldogs (1-0) trailed 32-30 at halftime but scored eight straight points early in the second half to take the lead for good as Asheville picked up the win over its mountain rivals.
D.J. Cunningham added 14 points for the home teams, while freshman Will Weeks came off the bench to score 13 points and six rebounds.
WCU (0-1) was led by Tom Tankelewicz with 15 points. He was 5-of-12 from the three-point line. Tawaski King had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Trey Sumler chipped in 11 points and five assists.
"We played pretty well in the second half and picked up a great victory against a Western Carolina team that's going to win a lot of games this season," stated Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach. "Jeremy Atkinson was sensational and really carried us at times. I was proud of the way we played down the stretch. Our defense was really good in the second half."
The Bulldogs trailed 35-32 but took the lead for good as Cunningham and Atkinson combined for eight straight points to give Asheville the lead for good at 40-35.
The home team was able to build on the lead and pushed the margin to 57-47 on a Cunningham dunk at the 10:10 mark.
The Catamounts crept to 63-57 on a dunk from King with 4:27 left. Asheville got points from guard Trent Meyer and two free throws from Atkinson to pad the lead to 67-57.
WCU closed to 67-61 with 38 second left but Meyer hit four free throws in the final 30 seconds to seal Asheville's third straight home win over the Catamounts.
Atkinson was 8-of-17 from the field and 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Asheville held a 46-28 scoring advantage in the paint.
The Bulldogs went 0-for-7 from the three-point line and did not record a three-pointer for the first time since the 1994-95 season.
UNC Asheville travels to UNC Wilmington Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m.