ASHEVILLE, N.C. - The UNC Asheville men's basketball team gets back on the road Wednesday night when the Bulldogs travel to Gardner-Webb for a date with the Runnin' Bulldogs at Porter Arena starting at 7 p.m.
Asheville (7-8, 1-0 BSC) opened Big South Conference play with an 83-69 victory at Liberty Saturday night. Keith Hornsby scored a career-high 27 points in the win as Asheville took charge of the game in the second half to improve the Bulldogs' record in league-openers under head coach Eddie Biedenbach to 16-1. The veteran coach expects a very tough game with a well-coached Gardner-Webb (8-7, 0-1 BSC)) squad. The Runnin' Bulldogs own a win over DePaul in the Big East and a near upset of Illinois on the road. GWU lost its conference opener on Saturday at Campbell in triple overtime, 93-81.
"We're very impressed with what we've seen from Gardner-Webb on tape this year," admitted Biedenbach. "They have a very good team that's playing some good basketball. We have always had tough games with them over the years, but they're even better this season. Our guys are going to have to be at our best to have a chance at winning. We will get Gardner-Webb's best shot on Wednesday, and we have to be ready for that."
Asheville hopes to keep some amazing streaks alive in Wednesday's game. The Bulldogs are 16-4 in their last 20 road games against league opponents, 11-1 in their last 12 road league games and 26-2 in their last 28 games against conference opponents.
Asheville has an 8-0 record against Gardner-Webb since the Runnin' Bulldog program joined the Big South, but all the games have been extremely close and tough contest. The Dogs are 4-0 at Porter Arena but have had to rally twice from halftime deficits and the last three games have been decided in the final minute of play.
The Bulldogs won twice last year but had to rally each time. They won 66-60 at Gardner-Webb but trailed 14-1 after eight minutes and didn't take the lead until the six-minute mark of the second half. Asheville led by nine with a minute to go only to see the Runnin' Bulldogs narrow the lead to three with 25 seconds left. The Dogs hit just enough free throws to win. At Kimmel Arena, Asheville won 71-61 but not before Tashan Newsome of Gardner-Webb scored 33 points against the Bulldogs. GWU led by three midway through the second half, before Asheville surged to the win down the stretch.
Jeremy Atkinson continues to lead the Bulldogs in scoring with a 17.5 average and that's fourth best in the Big South. His 7.9 rebounding mark leads Asheville and is also fourth best in the league. Sophomore guard Keith Hornsby is second on the team in scoring with a 15.3 average and has been on a roll recently. He's scored in double figures in seven straight games and is averaging 20.1 points per game in those contests. Hornsby tops the league in free throw percentage (.953) and three-point percentage (.455). His .953 mark in free throw percentage is second best in the nation, and he's knocked down 25 straight free throws entering Wednesday's game.
After the game at Gardner-Webb, the Bulldogs will have played six of their last seven games away from Kimmel Arena. Asheville starts a home stretch of playing four of its next five games at Kimmel on Saturday when the Bulldogs host Radford staring at 2 p.m.
UNC Asheville has won five of its last seven games and three of its last four road contests.
The Bulldogs have shot better than 50 percent from the field in four of their last eight games.
Asheville had just one turnover in the second half of its win at Liberty Saturday night and scored a season-high 55 points.
The Bulldogs are now 4-4 when they trail at halftime. Asheville has posted two wins this year when trailing by double-digits in the first half. They trailed by 17 at St. John's and by 10 at Liberty.
Asheville has out-rebounded or been even with six of its last nine opponents. They were even with Ohio State (32-32) and out-rebounded St. John's 40-30, including a 23-9 count in the second half.
Six of the Bulldogs eight losses have been by eight points or less, including two straight losses by two points to N.C. State (82-80) and USC Upstate (73-71). In those two losses, Asheville led at every media timeout before falling in the final minutes.
UNC Asheville junior center D.J. CUNNINGHAM has recorded 27 of his 38 blocked shots this season in his last eight games, an average of 3.38 in that span. He has at least three rejections in six of those contests as well. During his current streak, he became the 29th player in Big South history with 100 career blocked shots when he surpassed the milestone Nov. 29 against USC Upstate. Cunningham now stands at 125 blocks (T-20th all-time) and with 445 career rebounds, he is on his way to joining the Big South 500-rebound, 100-blocked shot club, which currently stands at 16 members. His 125 blocks places him seventh all-time at UNC Asheville in that category.
As a team, the Bulldogs have blocked 78 shots. Asheville's 5.20 per game average lead the Big South Conference. Last year, the Dogs blocked just 88 shots on the season.