NEW YORK (AP) — UNC Asheville grabbed the nation’s attention last March by going down to the wire with Syracuse in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Looking to become the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1, the Bulldogs fell short, 72-65, and dropped to 0-15 against Big East teams.
Make it 1-15.
Jeremy Atkinson scored a career-high 31 points, 13 in UNC Asheville’s game-turning 23-4 run, and pulled down nine rebounds in the Bulldogs’ 72-65 victory over St. John’s on Friday night
The Bulldogs (5-7) trailed by 17 in the first half and were down 54-42 with 12:11 remaining.
“We started to really battle the last half of the first half and the beginning of the second half,” Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach said. “We did some dumb things out there, offensively and defensively, and we didn’t stay consistent. But I’m going to have to live with that a little bit this year. We have a bunch of good players, but the inconsistency drives me nuts.”
Not in the final 12 minutes. The Bulldogs were the better team during that closing span.
Atkinson keyed the big burst, hitting all three of his 3-pointers. He was 6 of 10 overall in the second half, when Asheville shot 48.4 percent and made four of its nine 3-point attempts.
Keith Hornsby’s breakaway dunk gave the Bulldogs a 65-58 lead with 4:10 to play. The Red Storm (8-4) answered with a 7-0 run to tie the game at 65 with 2:03 left.
Hornsby, with 4 seconds left on the shot clock, hit a 3 to break the tie with 1:30 left and that started the Bulldogs’ game-closing 7-0 run.
“It was 65-all, anyone’s game,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said. ” He hit the big 3 at end of the shot clock and we turn it over and that’s all she wrote.”
Hornsby, the son of Grammy Award-winning singer Bruce Hornsby, had 14 points and Will Weeks added 10 points and nine rebounds.
Atkinson’s previous high was 29 points in a two-point loss to No. 25 North Carolina State earlier this season.
“The effort was there all night long. We’re getting better and better each game. I couldn’t be prouder of this team,” Biedenbach said. “We had a rough start to the season with some games we should have and could have won. But tonight, we battled through a lot of adversity with fouls and everything else, and all the guys really played well.”
Asheville, two-time defending Big South champions, outrebounded the Red Storm 40-30, including 13-7 on the offensive end.
D’Angelo Harrison had 24 points for the Red Storm, who had won six of seven. JaKarr Sampson added 17.
“This is definitely going to hurt,” Harrison said. “We wanted to go into the Big East winning seven of eight. Dropping this one hurts.”
Phil Greene of the Red Storm put it bluntly.
“It was just basically not putting the game away,” he said. “We just collapsed.”
Asheville scored the last five points of the first half — all off St. John’s turnovers — to get within 40-30. The Red Storm led 38-21 with 3:12 left on a fadeaway by Sampson.
This capped Asheville’s three-game, eight-day trip that started with a loss at No. 7 Ohio State followed by a win over Northeastern.
Jamal Branch, a transfer from Texas A&M, made his debut with the Red Storm. The sophomore point guard had two points, two assists and four rebounds in 14 minutes.
“He came in and played well, threw some nice passes and played good defense,” Greene, the starting point guard, said. “Once he gets adjusted he’ll be fine.”
The Red Storm start their Big East schedule with games at Villanova on Jan. 2 and No. 11 Cincinnati on Jan. 5.
This was the second meeting between the schools. St. John’s won 105-50 on Nov. 16, 1998.
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