Editor’s Note: UNC Asheville Associate Athletic Director Mike Gore will be traveling with the men’s basketball team throughout the season. Throughout the year, he will be doing a blog to give Bulldog fans a background look at this year’s team. Today’s blog talks about the games played in Rhode Island
We lost both games at Rhode Island in the third and fourth round of the NIT Tip-Off but we certainly gave a great effort in both games.
I’ve been at UNC Asheville for 28 years and I have never seen our men’s basketball team hit with so many injuries. The starting line-up we used at Kentucky less than three weeks ago isn’t close to what we used tonight against East Carolina.
The bad news started right before we left Asheville on Sunday when we found out senior center D.J. Cunningham hurt his knee and wouldn’t be able to play in the two games here. And then junior guard Corey Littlejohn hurt his ankle last night against Rhode Island and couldn’t play tonight against a very good East Carolina squad.
Our first game was against Rhode Island Monday night. There was a sparse crowd on hand at the beautiful Ryan Center. They listed 856 people and that’s in a 7,500-seat building. Rhode Island just found it was going to host and didn’t have enough time to get it to its season-ticket holders, throw in Thanksgiving break and some cold New England weather and you didn’t have many people on hand.
We play well in the first half and lead most of the way even without D.J. playing. We run our offense very well and shoot 50 percent in the first half and the game is tied 33-33 going into intermission.
In the second half, Rhode Island’s depth begins to play a factor and we go cold from the outside. We’re only down two with about 14 minutes to go when they go on a 12-2 run to seize control of the game. Rhode Island will win 73-56.
One of the more interesting parts of the game comes midway through the second half when Lamar Odom shows up. He gets a nice hand and sits behind the URI bench.
Some bright spots come out of the game as David Robertson scores all eight of his points in the second half. Jaron Lane scores a season-high 17 points. Freshman guard Andrew Rowsey plays all 40 minutes and scores 17 points as well. But we’re beat pretty good on the boards and they just have too many weapons. You can’t help but think what if we had D.J. and Will Weeks, it would have much, much closer game but we don’t.
Dinner is back at the hotel and already we’re getting ready for East Carolina. They were impressive in the first game against McNeese State as the Pirates won 91-62. ECU is 5-1 and going to be a tough game for us tomorrow afternoon.
We sleep well in our hotel that is on “Goat Island.” Every room has the ocean around it. I get out and was able to take a photo with my phone and send back to Lisa. We’re right next to a marina and it’s neat to see all the boats around.
A new day commences and another injury. Corey Littlejohn injures his ankle and he won’t be able to play tonight. With so much energy exerted in the Rhode Island game, Coach McDevitt decides not to make the half-hour trip to Ryan Arena for practice. He holds a walkthrough in the ballroom in the hotel to rest the guys.
We eat pre-game at 1:30 and as I walk in, Coach Dixon is going over the scout with our players. He’s done a good preparing the guys as they all know the answers of what we need to against their players.
With Corey’s injury, we will start an all-freshmen backcourt for the first time in five years in David Robertson and Andrew Rowsey.
East Carolina is as good as advertised early and jumps out to a 23-9 lead after nine minutes. We’re getting good shots but they’re just not going down. We play walk-on guard Alex Biggerstaff for most of the first half and he does a good job hanging in there.
Our guys make a nice run at the end of the half and close to 44-31 at halftime after trailing by 18.
In the second half, we hang around but can’t quite make that big run to get close. ECU goes up by 20 at 72-52 with four minutes left.
We roar back and make a game of it. Andrew Rowsey scores nine straight points. Jaron hits a three and suddenly we’re within 72-64. ECU has to go 9-of-10 from the free throw line to hold us off and wins 81-70.
It’s a loss but the coaching staff is really proud of the effort. East Carolina’s only loss this year was a close decision to Duke at Cameron. We’re playing players out of position, asking walk-ons to play and were a couple of shots away from making it really interesting down the stretch.
Chudier Pal plays well off the bench and grabs a career-high eight rebounds and scores six points, including a nice bucket on a fast-break. In the end, we just don’t have enough weapons but we’re becoming a better basketball team.
Today we’re simply worried about getting home. It’s actually 60 degrees in Newport but its pouring and it’s foggy at the airport. Though we have enjoyed our trip to Rhode Island, we want to get home.
It’s an early wake-up call at 6:30 a.m. and we leave for the airport at 7:30. It’s gray, dreary and raining all the way to the airport.
We’re pleasantly surprised that the airport appears to be fairly quiet on the busiest day of travel. We quickly go inside and check the monitor and see two beautiful for our flight to Charlotte – “On Time.”
We get our bags checked; make it through security fairly quickly. One of the guards tells me that we’re traveling at a great time. It was crazy at 6 a.m., will be even crazier this afternoon and wild tonight. Needless to say, I’m thankful to be traveling now.
Our flight is a little bumpy at the start and a little bumpy at the end but we’re back in Charlotte, just a short bus ride away from home.
Sure it was two losses but our younger players are getting a little more confidence and we know it’s a long year. These games will only make us better.