After losing in a heart-breaking game against Syracuse in the NCAA tournament, the UNC Asheville men’s basketball team returned to a warm reception from fans, students and the Asheville community on Sunday, March 18.
More than 100 people packed into the Highsmith Student Union for the public event. Fans thanked the team for a great season. The bulldogs won the Big South Conference championship for the second year in a row. This title sent them back to the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row, this time to play Syracuse in Pittsburgh, Penn.
“Their zone defense was hard to crack, but we played well enough to win,” head coach Eddie Biedenbach said before he repeated what he has said at various press conferences, “We were the best team that night.” At this statement, the crowd cheered.
Chancellor Anne Ponder also spoke to welcome back the basketball team. Ponder attended the game in Pittsburgh and spoke highly of the players, coaches and fans. “We’ve got fans who didn’t even know they were UNCA fans, who cried in our frustration and cheered on our behalf,” she said, adding, “We won everything but the score.”
The final score of the game was 72-65, but a few questionable calls infuriated fans. However, though it had only been 72 hours since the game, players spoke about the positives and did not dwell on the fairness or unfairness of the officiating.
Matt Dickey, the team’s leading scorer and guard, joked, “I’m not going to cry. You guys already saw that on CBS.”
Thursday’s game against Syracuse was Dickey’s last game as a UNCA bulldog. He said that the team has come a long way since when he was just a freshman, referencing the Big South Championship game against Coastal Carolina his junior year and how the team was always picked to win the Big South Championship this year. Though they did not advance in the NCAA tournament, Dickey said he is thankful for his time spent playing basketball at UNCA.
“God has truly blessed this team, and I really couldn’t ask for better. I love y’all and thank the fans and coaches for all of the support these past four years,” he said.
For senior student Emmy Hunnicutt, this team gave her something as well. “You’ve made my experience better at UNCA,” she said. “You’ve perfected my senior year.”
Photo by Megan Dombroski