One of the purposes of early non-conference games is for college basketball coaches to figure out their rotations, to find players beyond the trusted veterans who can come off the bench and deliver when called upon.
UNC Asheville coach Nick McDevitt appears to have found a key cog through seven games, a thin 6-9 sophomore from Germany who played in just 11 games last season.
Jonathan Baehre keyed a first-half run and then watched his trusted veteran teammates bring it home Wednesday night at Kimmel Arena in the Bulldogs’ 82-70 win over USC Upstate.
Senior Ahmad Thomas had 24 points and 11 rebounds for the Bulldogs (5-2) and MaCio Teague drilled six 3-pointers to account for most of his 22 points, but it was Baehre who lit an early fire that allowed Asheville to go on to its fourth straight win.
The Spartans (3-6) jumped out to a quick 10-3 lead but the Bulldogs responded with a 20-2 run, with Baehre coming off the bench for eight points in that spurt.
He had 11 points in his first seven minutes of the opening half, shooting 5-for5 from the floor, and finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots, all career highs.
Baehre also played well in his last game, a 12-point, five-rebound effort Sunday vs. Wofford.
On a team that has no post presence and depends on quality perimeter play, Baehre’s size – despite his 195-pound frame – is badly needed, and he is agile enough to play on the perimeter and draw a big man away from the basket.
“He’s been playing better and better, it wasn’t just tonight,” said Asheville coach Nick McDevitt.
“He’s delivered when his name is called, and he hit some big shots early tonight when we needed them.
“He keeps giving us a dimension (with rebounding and shot blocking) that we haven’t had the last year or two, having a 6-9 guy who can make 3s and block shots.”
USCS didn’t get much production from their leading scorer.
Malik Moore, a 6-6 junior and a former Erwin High standout who came in averaging 15.5 points per game, didn’t start for the first time this season.
He finished with seven points on 2-of-5 shooting and had four turnovers in 24 minutes.
“We knew they were going to shoot a lot of 3s (34 of their 55 attempts were from beyond the arc, and the Spartans made just 10, for 29 percent), so we had to stay on the perimeter and grab the long rebounds,” said Thomas.
After wrapping up a three-game homestand – their longest of the season – the Bulldogs begin a stretch of six games in which they will play at Kimmel Arena just once.
Asheville plays at Clemson in a 3 p.m. start Sunday and visits Furman on Tuesday night.
The next game at Kimmel is Dec. 10 vs. Milligan.
The Bulldogs will play mountain rival Western Carolina Dec. 17 at the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Asheville.