Matt Dickey and the Bulldogs were quite an opening act on the NCAA tournament's expanded stage, one that has more teams in the brackets and - so far - the same March drama on the court.
Dickey led a late run that brought overtime, and J.P. Primm hit five free throws and had a decisive steal in the closing seconds, sending UNC Asheville to an 81-77 victory over Arkansas-Little Rock in a dramatic “First Four” opener Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio.
“I’ll tell you what, I couldn’t be happier with the city of Dayton,” Bulldogs coach Eddie Biedenbach said.
There wasn’t time for a curtain call. The Bulldogs (20-13) quickly headed to the airport for a charter flight to Washington, D.C., where they’ll play Pittsburgh — the Southeast’s top seed — on Thursday. The Bulldogs had never flown a charter before this week, and joked they felt “presidential” on their trip to Dayton.
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“We’re going to feel presidential again, and we’re going to D.C.,” Primm said. “So it’s going to feel even better.”
UNC Asheville won the battle of No. 16 seeds with a tournament-worthy performance by its best player. The Bulldogs led for 51 seconds in regulation before Dickey asserted himself. He scored 14 of the Bulldogs’ last 18 points in regulation, including a 3-pointer with 10.5 seconds to go that tied it.
Dickey, who was the Big South tournament’s MVP, took two shots in the first half.
“I came in at halftime and they kept telling me to keep being aggressive, my shots will start falling,” Dickey said. “I started getting open looks, my shot started falling and it felt good.”
Primm and Dickey had 22 points apiece.
Clemson 70, UAB 52: Jerai Grant scored a career-best 22 points and the fast-starting Tigers built a double-figure lead and never backed off in beating the Blazers in an NCAA “First Four” game in Dayton, Ohio.
In a matchup of No. 12 seeds, the Tigers (22-11) went on a 21-2 run in the first half and never let the big lead slip away, as they had in several recent games.
Clemson hurried out after the game to catch a flight to a second-round game against fifth-seeded West Virginia (20-11) on Thursday in Tampa, Fla.
Clemson was picked to finish seventh in the ACC. Jamarr Sanders had 19 and Dexter Fields 12 for UAB, regular-season champions of Conference USA.
• UNC-Asheville 81, Arkansas-Little Rock 77 (OT)
• Clemson 70, UAB 52
• Texas-San Antonio vs. Alabama State, 3:30 p.m.
• Southern Cal vs. Virginia Commonwealth, 6 p.m.