WILMINGTON, North Carolina - UNC Asheville makes the long trek from the mountains to the coast Sunday to face UNCW in the 2012-13 season opener for the Seahawk men’s basketball team at Trask Coliseum.
The Seahawks, 10-21 one year ago, begin their 30-game schedule with a 2 p.m. tip-off against the two-time defending Big South Conference champions. The two teams last met early in the 2005-06 campaign, with UNCW claiming its 10th consecutive win over the Bulldogs, 68-50, in Wilmington.
“Coach (Eddie) Biedenbach has done an outstanding job with the Asheville program,” said UNCW Head Coach Buzz Peterson, who begins his third season in the Port City. “They opened their season with an impressive victory over Western Carolina last night in a very hard-fought game at home.
“We know UNC Asheville will be a fundamentally sound basketball team that will battle all the way to the end. Jeremy Atkinson is a tremendous athlete who gave Western Carolina fits in the season opener. It will be a good challenge for us and we hope everyone will come out and support the guys as we get the season started.”
Led by the active Atkinson, the Bulldogs reversed a 32-30 halftime deficit with an eight-point spurt early in the second half to scoot past the Catamounts. Atkinson, a 6-4, 210-pound senior forward, poured in a career-high 24 points and added a game-high 11 rebounds.
UNCA shot 46.2 percent from the field, but missed all seven of its 3-point attempts. The Bulldogs outscored the Catamounts at the free throw line, 23-12, after going 23-for-32 at the charity stripe. WCU struggled offensively, shooting just 31.8 percent on the night and made only seven of 25 attempts from long range.
UNCW, meanwhile, crushed NCAA Division III foe N.C. Wesleyan, 90-51, last Saturday in its lone exhibition game of the season. The Seahawks torched the nets for 63.2 percent en route to their 23rd straight exhibition victory. Junior guard Tanner Milson was high man with 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting, including 5-for-8 behind the arc.
Senior forward Keith Rendleman, a Preseason First-Team All-CAA selection, anchors Peterson’s third team in the Port City. The bouncy Rendleman averaged 15.3 points and 10.0 rebounds last season and has 22 career double-doubles to his credit. He will be honored prior to the game for reaching the 1,000-point milestone in the final game of the 2011-12 season.
“Without question, Keith will be our leader this year,” added Peterson. “He has developed into one of the best players in the CAA by working to get better every day. We expect him to have a terrific season.”
The Seahawks are playing their season opener at home for the first time in four seasons and stand 23-25 lifetime in season debuts. UNCW has not won its opener since topping Appalachian State, 108-101, in overtime on Nov. 14, 2008.
“It’s important to get off to a good start,” Peterson added. “We have a good mix of veteran players and newcomers. We have a difficult road ahead with three straight road games, so it would be great to win this first game to get some confidence heading into a very challenging first two weeks of the season.”
In last year’s opener, Maryland held off UNCW, 71-62, on Nov. 13, 2011, at the Comcast Center in College Park, Md.
Following Sunday’s matinee, the Seahawks begin a treacherous stretch of three road tilts, beginning Tuesday with a date at former CAA rival Richmond. UNCW then visits Sweet Sixteen entry Ohio and Big Ten Conference power Purdue on the road before returning home for back-to-back dates against Wofford and Hampton.