DURHAM, N.C. – UNC Asheville placed five players in double figures but came up just short against Norfolk State, 80-78 in the second round of the Preseason NIT Tuesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium on the campus of Duke University.
The Bulldogs (1-4) trailed by 10 midway through the second half and had a chance to tie the game late but a last-second lob to Jaleel Roberts came up short as the buzzer sounded and allowed the preseason favorites from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference to escape with the victory,
Asheville was led by sophomore forward Sam Hughes with 16 points as he tied his career high from the night before against Duke. Jaron Lane added 15 points, while David Robertson and D.J. Cunningham finished with 13 points each. Andrew Rowsey chipped in 12 points before fouling out with nine seconds left.
NSU (3-2) was led by Brandon Goode with 22 points.
The Bulldogs were hampered again with yet another injury. Junior guard Corey Littlejohn injured his ankle against Duke and only played three minutes Tuesday night.
“We battled and competed but you can’t let a team score 48 points in the second half and expect to win,” commented first-year coach Nick McDevitt. “We made just enough mistakes to lose a close game against a very good team.
“Our effort was great, and we did a pretty good job scoring 51 points in the second half ourselves,” added McDevitt. “But with Corey getting hurt, we had to play some guys a little more in the second half and we might have gotten fatigued in the second half. I think that’s why we couldn’t get some stops when we needed to because of some fatigue.”
Asheville trailed 77-72 with two minutes left before rallying to get close. Hughes scored off a feed from Cunningham to cut the lead to 77-74. After a Spartan miss, Rowsey missed a runner in the lane but Cunningham followed with a monster dunk to cut the lead to 77-76 with 56 seconds left.
Goode scored on a follow dunk at the 33-second mark to push the lead to 79-76. Rowsey was fouled with 14 seconds and he hit both free throws to narrow the lead to 79-78.
The Bulldogs fouled LaTre’e Russell two seconds later. He missed the front end of a one-and-one but was able to come down with the rebound. Rowsey fouled him at the nine-second mark.
He made the first free throw to push the lead to 80-78 but missed the second. Asheville came down with the rebound and came down for a final shot. The Bulldogs called time-out with 0.7 seconds left. They tried to in-bound the ball to 7-0 center Jaleel Roberts. Lane was able to get the ball to Roberts but the junior center couldn’t get a shot off in time.
Asheville out-rebounded Norfolk State 41-22 and had 21 offensive rebounds to eight for the Spartans.
“Rebounding was a key to the game tonight and for the most part we did a good job in that area,” said McDevitt. “But we let them have two big ones in the last minute. Those are the little things that can get you beat in a close game.”
UNC Asheville will play in the third and fourth round of the Preseason NIT next Monday and Tuesday at a site yet to be announced. The Bulldogs expect to find out sometime Wednesday where they’ll be going.
UNC Asheville placed five players in double figures for the first time since a win at VMI last season.
D.J. Cunningham collected eight rebounds and has 599 in his career.
Sam Hughes grabbed a career-high eight rebounds.
Jaleel Roberts just missed a double-double with nine points and nine rebounds.
Asheville had a season-low nine turnovers.
The Bulldogs missed three free throws in the second half but got an offensive rebound each time and scored eight points off those misses