DAYTON, Ohio (AP) – Matt Dickey and North Carolina-Asheville injected a little customary March drama into the NCAA’s new-look tournament. 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 Tuesday night, sending UNC Asheville to an 81-77 victory over Arkansas-Little Rock in a dramatic “First Four” opener.
“We don’t have any quit in this team,” UNC Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach said.READ MORE: Lincoln Riley Leaves OU For USC, Bob Stoops Returning As Interim Head Coach For Bowl Game
The Bulldogs (20-13) will play Pittsburgh, the top seed in the Southeast, on Thursday in Washington, D.C.
UNC Asheville pulled it out with a tournament-worthy performance by its best player. The Bulldogs led for only 51 seconds in regulation, before Dickey asserted himself. He scored 14 of the Bulldogs’ last 18 points in regulation, including a 3 with 10.5 seconds to go that tied it.
“I hit one in the corner and it was a good time for it to fall,” Dickey said.
Primm and Dickey had 22 points apiece.
Alex Garcia-Mendoza matched his career high with 21 points for Arkansas-Little Rock (19-17). The Trojans played overtime without Solomon Bozeman, the Sun Belt’s player of the year who fouled out in the final minute of regulation. He finished with 18 points.
Each year, the tournament turns into a big stage looking for a star. Dickey became the first to take the spotlight.
The shooting guard asserted himself with nine minutes left, leading the late surge that culminated in his 3-pointer from the left corner. Matt Mouzy missed a 3 at the buzzer, sending it to overtime.
There were five lead changes in overtime, the last coming on Primm’s two free throws that made it 78-77 and put the Bulldogs in position to win yet another overtime tournament game in Dayton.READ MORE: 16 Units Damaged In 3-Alarm Apartment Fire In Fort Worth
The Bulldogs also opened the tournament in Dayton in 2003, when they became the first Big South team to win an NCAA tournament game. They went overtime to beat Texas Southern 92-84 in a one-game play-in for the 65-team field.
UNC Asheville received a key to their city last week for making it to the NCAA tournament, something they’d done only one other time in school history.
Imagine what kind of greeting they can expect back home now.
Players had trouble sleeping the night before they got on their charter flights — a first for most of them — and headed to Dayton to become a footnote to NCAA tournament history. They were the opening act in the “First Four” — four games over two days at the University of Dayton Arena, part of an expanded 68-team field.
And they did it with a few tournament-worthy moments: Unexpected 3s, no-look passes and overtime drama.
“We’re playing really good now and it feels good to go to the second round,” Dickey said.
Both teams had a leading player coming off an MVP tournament. Dickey averaged 19.7 points during the Big South tournament. Bozeman got the same honors in the Sun Belt, hitting a 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left that brought the championship.
With the Trojans needing another big shot on Tuesday, he could only sit and watch.MORE NEWS: VIDEO: A Candid Conversation With Kristaps Porzingis
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