ASHEVILLE, N.C. - No. 1 seed UNC Asheville placed five players in double figures and used a 20-12 run the final 10 minutes to pull away with an 80-64 win over No. 7 seed VMI and capture the 2012 Advance Auto Parts Big South Men's Basketball Championship Saturday at Kimmel Arena. With the win, the Bulldogs win their second consecutive Big South Tournament title and receive the Conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Asheville (24-9) is the League's first back-to-back champion since Winthrop won four-straight from 2005-08, and is the first No. 1 seed to win the title since 2009.
Asheville scored 48 points in the paint and had 24 assists on 29 field goals -- the second-most assists in a Big South Championship Game. Jeremy Atkinson scored a game-high 18 points to pace the Bulldogs' scoring attack, while J.P. Primm had 16. Matt Dickey (15), Chris Stephenson (13) and Quinard Jackson (11) rounded out Asheville's top scorers. The Bulldogs are now 21-6 when Dickey and Primm score 15 points in the same game.
VMI (17-16) was led by Keith Gabriel's 12 points, while Jordan Weethee added 11 off the bench. The Keydets were within one-point at halftime after having a four-point lead with 4:40 remaining in the opening stanza.
VMI would later tie the game at 47-47 early in the second half, but the effects of playing four games in six days caught up with the Keydets as they finished with a 38.9 field goal percentage. In addition, VMI managed just one three-point field goal in the second half after making six in the first 20 minutes.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead in the first two minutes, forcing VMI to call timeout. The Keydets countered with a 6-2 run to get within two on Quinton Upshur's three-pointer at the 17:07 mark. Dickey then capped an 8-2 run with a three-pointer at 14:23 that pushed the Bulldogs ahead by eight, 16-8. But VMI kept making it a one possession game, as the Keydets got within one point three different times before taking their first lead of the day on Nick Gore's layup at the 6:01 mark that made the score 25-24.
VMI's lead reached four two different times before the host Bulldogs closed out the first half with a 10-5 run to take a 36-35 halftime advantage. Primm had 11 points at the break to lead Asheville, while Gabriel was VMI's top scorer with 10. Asheville shot 52.0 percent from the field (13-of-25), compared to VMI's 40.0 clip (12-of-30).
Asheville opened the second half with a layup from Jackson and a three-pointer from Stephenson to move back ahead by six. VMI came back again and got to within a point on a Ron Burks' free throw, and eventually tied it a second time at 44-44 on D.J. Covington's inside layup at 15:57. Michael Sparks tied it one final time for the Keydets with a free throw to make the score 47-47 with 15:10 remaining, but the Bulldogs began to pull away and later took their first double-digit lead with 8:05 left to play. VMI would get to within eight with 6:17 on the clock, only to see Asheville increase its lead by as much as 20 before the final margin. Dickey and Atkinson did the bulk of the second half scoring with 10 points each.
UNC Asheville captures its fourth overall Big South title, tied for second-most in Big South history, and wins its first as the No. 1 seed. VMI was the third No. 7 seed to play for the Conference championship. The Bulldogs finished the game 29-of-55 from the field ( =52.7 percent) and also recorded 12 steals -- tied for third-most in a Big South title game. Primm was voted Tournament MVP and was joined on the All-Tournament Team by teammates Stephenson and Atkinson, while VMI's Gabriel and Stan Okoye also earned spots on the squad.
UNC Asheville Head Coach Eddie Biedenbach "I can't tell you how proud I am of this team over the whole season. What they have done off and on the court all season long to get them to this point. Defense was the difference in the game and our guys were solid on the defensive end. VMI did a great job of coaching their team to get them here today and they had a great run this week. That's why we won the tournament: because of defense."
VMI Head Coach Duggar Baucom "First and foremost, congratulations to Asheville. They have had a tremendous season and played well. Give credit to Coach Biedenbach and their coaching staff. I thought the difference in the game was all five of their starters were in double figures and we barely had anybody in double digits. I am proud of my guys. This week has been remarkable for my kids, for my staff and our fans. I think we just ran out of gas today. It was special for our guys, especially for our four seniors."