Battling to the End
In record-setting season, Bulldogs win hearts on campus and across the country
In a season few college basketball fans in the region will ever forget, UNC Asheville’s Bulldogs broke in the new Kimmel Arena in style, setting a school record of 24 victories en route to their second consecutive Big South Conference men’s championship. And in their return trip to the Big Dance, the Bulldogs came within six minutes of becoming the first 16-seeded team in NCAA Tournament history to beat the top seed.
As they battled the national powerhouse Syracuse Orangemen, the Bulldogs won over the almost 19,000 fans in Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center, and fans and reporters from newspapers across the country, many of whom felt the Bulldogs might have pulled off the upset if not for some controversial referees’ calls. Despite a tremendous height disadvantage, the Bulldogs did become only the third 16-seeded team in March Madness history to hold a halftime lead over the top seed, and were within three points with 25 seconds left before succumbing 72-65.
The final game produced headlines like “History, Almost” in the Asheville Citizen-Times, and a place on the New York Times website front page. Newspapers across the country also featured a photo of seniors J.P. Primm, Matt Dickey and Quinard Jackson fighting off tears on the bench in the game’s closing seconds.
Only two weeks earlier, Primm and Dickey had embraced in tears of joy and triumph as student fans flooded the Kimmel Arena floor to celebrate the Big South Conference championship. That victory and the valiant effort against Syracuse were crowning achievements for Primm, Dickey, Jackson and Chris Stephenson, who have played, worked and studied together since entering UNC Asheville as freshmen.
Primm finished his career as UNC Asheville’s all-time leader in assists and steals, and was Big South Conference tournament Most Valuable Player. Dickey earned Big South Conference Player of the Year honors and was named to the conference All-Academic team. “[Dickey and Primm]have done so much for this program since they were freshmen,” said Coach Eddie Biedenbach. “I remember the first day. I talked to them, and they said they didn’t know if they were going to play much; they just wanted to do what they could to help. They have done so much on and off the court for each other and their teammates. If people only knew the hours they have put in to become the players they are….”
Stephenson was named to the Big South All-Tournament team. Jackson was the Bulldogs’ rock in the middle, playing center at 6’5” and holding his own against bigger players in almost every match-up. Jeremy Harn, who also helped patrol the middle, will be moving on to graduate school, and Kimmel Arena fans will miss Madison Davis, the Bulldogs’ other graduating senior.
Juniors Jaron Lane and Jeremy Atkinson were invaluable contributors this season and give hope to Bulldog fans dreaming about a third-consecutive Big South title. But there is no mistaking that those few missed shots and heartbreaking whistles that brought March Madness to an end for the Bulldogs also closed an era for the team.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the guys, the effort we put in,” said Primm. “This is a tough one to take,” said Biedenbach who will have to say goodbye to six seniors as the semester comes to an end. “We gave it everything we had. We battled the best we could. These guys are great.”