Beyond the Scoreboard: Bulldogs survive first-round tourney scare

Ahmad Thomas led the Bulldogs with 17 points in the quarterfinal win over Charleston Southern (WLOS Staff).jpg
Ahmad Thomas led the Bulldogs with 17 points in the quarterfinal win over Charleston Southern (WLOS Staff){ }

It’s an old, but tried and true cliché – this part of the college basketball season is about just one thing – survive and advance.

In the March Madness of one and done, lose and go home, all that matters is finishing with more points than the opponent.

UNC Asheville did that Thursday night.

Holding off a late charge by No. 8 seed Charleston Southern, the top-seeded Bulldogs earned a 71-66 win Thursday night in the quarterfinal round of the Big South Conference Men’s Basketball Championship at Kimmel Arena.

The Bulldogs (21-11) played crisply for 30 minutes and then hung on at the end to win at home for the 23rd time in its last 24 games.

Asheville, trying to get to the NCAAs for the fifth time in 16 years, is now 82-17 at home since Kimmel opened in 2011, including a 27-2 mark the past two years and 14-1 this season.

The Bulldogs did it with senior leadership, veterans who know not to panic. When a 14-point lead was

whittled to three in the final minute, senior Ahmad Thomas made a winning play.

The all-conference forward sank a short fall away jumper as the shot clock expired with nine seconds left for a five-point lead that sealed the win.

“We’re glad to be advancing to the next round,” said Asheville coach Nick McDevitt. “Charleston Southern is a real good team. They are an eight seed but tied for fifth, and they won (seven of their last nine) down the stretch.

“We stepped up and made some big plays when we needed to. When the game got tight, our veterans did a good job.”

Thomas had 17 points for the Bulldogs, while fellow senior Raekwon Miller pitched in with 12 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.

Christian Keeling had 24 points for the Buccaneers (15-16), who lost to Asheville for the third time this season by 10 points or less.

With MaCio Teague leading the way with all 17 of his points, the Bulldogs took a 41-34 lead at halftime.

Teague made a trio of 3-pointers and got a lot of help from Thomas, who had nine points and four steals in the opening 20 minutes.

Asheville shot 53 percent and led by as many as 13 in the first half with less than five minutes left but Charleston Southern – behind 15 points from Keeling – closed strongly to cut the deficit.

In Friday’s semifinal round at Kimmel, the Bulldogs will play No. 5 Liberty who beat 4th seed Campbell 73-59.

The championship game, with the winner heading to the NCAA tourney, is 1 p.m. Sunday. If Asheville is still in the tournament, it will be played at Kimmel.

If the Bulldogs have been eliminated, the game will be played at the site of the higher seed.

In the first quarterfinal game Thursday, No. 2 Radford escaped an upset bid by No. 10 Longwood and eked out a 59-53 win.

With the scored tied at 53-53, Radford’s Donald Hicks hit his fifth 3-pointer with 34 seconds left to give the Highlanders (20-12) the lead for good.

Hicks finished with 16 points, while B.K. Ashe and Charles Glover had 15 points each for Longwood.

Radford will play No. 3 Winthrop in Friday’s other semifinal. Winthrop held off No. 6 Gardner-Webb 72-68 on Thursday, with guard Anders Broman scoring all 15 of his points in the second half.

Broman had four 3-pointers and Adam Pickett (15 points) had a trio of treys for the Eagles (19-11).

Liam O’Reilly led Gardner-Webb (14-18) with 20 points.