By Justin Mathis
SPARTANBURG, S.C. – It was a tightly contested battle in Wednesday’s Big South tilt between UNC Asheville and USC Upstate inside the Hodge Center.
Asheville picked up a couple of late stops, along with a couple of buckets, to hold off Upstate by a 57-53 margin to sweep the season series and end a three-game losing streak.
Over the first six minutes of game action, there were two ties before Deion Holmes broke the latter with a trip to the charity stripe, knocking down two free throws for a one point Upstate lead. Asheville responded with a 12-2 run to build a 17-8 advantage by the 10:06 mark of the first half.
Not long after that, the Spartans found some success from distance, as Pat Welch, Dalvin White, and Deion Holmes each hit a triple to help tie the game at 19. Asheville later jumped ahead 26-23, but was held without a field goal for the last 2:44 of the half. Holmes went on a 5-0 run by himself to give Upstate a 28-26 lead at the break. Upstate was 10-for-27 (37%) in the frame from the floor, while Asheville was 10-for-28 (35.7%).
“I’ve never been so proud of a team before in my life, in my 28 years of coaching,” Upstate head coach Dave Dickerson said. “From what (our team) did at the end of yesterday’s practice up until tonight was the best effort that I’ve seen any team make. We’ve had multiple injuries, but to come out tonight and do what they did (and) give ourselves a chance to win was just outstanding. I love the effort and I love this team.”
(Upstate-USC video here:
One of the top plays from the game came in the early stages of the second half.
Upstate guard Dalvin White had the ball a few feet away from the three point arc, on the left side of the court & Deion Holmes had just cut back out to the right corner. Holmes then made a cut behind an Asheville defender on a line to the basket. White threw a beautiful lob to Holmes, who finished the alley-oop with a thunderous two-handed slam, putting the Spartans ahead 32-28.
With three minutes left, Upstate’s Everette Hammond knocked down a jumper to tie the game, but moments later, the Bulldogs reclaimed the lead for the final time on their ensuing possession when Tijion Jones hit a three-pointer for a 53-50 advantage with 2:30 to go.
“You know that anytime you go on the road, it’s going to be hard fought,” Asheville head coach Mike Morrell stated. “(Upstate) is young, just like we are, and hungry for a win, just like we were. I thought our guys did a tremendous job late in the game with executing to get the ball inbounds, get fouled, go to the free throw line, and make the free throws… it wasn’t as pretty (as the first game against Upstate), but it’s good to come out on right end of this one.”
(UNC-Asheville video here:
For the game, Asheville was 22-for-57 (38.6%), while Upstate was 17-for-49 (34.7%). Asheville only committed six turnovers in the game, with five of those coming in the first half (11 turnovers for Upstate).
Upstate’s Deion Holmes led all scorers with 18 points, while Pat Welch had 12. Nevin Zink notched a career-high for rebounds with 13 to go along with six points. Tajion Jones led Asheville with 17 points, while DeVon Baker tallied 16.
Prior to tipoff, it was announced that Upstate’s leading scorer, Malik Moore, would not dress out due to what was described as a hand injury. When asked about a potential timetable for Moore’s recovery from the injury, Dickerson said that it “could be two or three weeks, but it could be sooner for him to return.”
Upstate starts a two-game road trip this Saturday as they travel to take on Longwood (3 PM tipoff), while Asheville will be off until Thursday, February 21st, when they host Gardner-Webb (7 PM tipoff).