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Jeff Eisenberg

Ticket punched: UNC Asheville earns first NCAA bid in eight years

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Midway through the second half of Saturday's tense Big South tournament title game, Coastal Carolina's student section taunted UNC Asheville players by chanting "Tar Heel rejects" at them.

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Call the Bulldogs whatever you want, but don't forget to also call them Big South champions.

Taking advantage of a Coastal Carolina team decimated by suspensions and injuries, UNC Asheville built an early double-digit lead and then withstood a flurry of second-half rallies from the Chanticleers to emerge with a 60-47 victory. Guard Matt Dickey finally landed the knockout blow, putting the Chanticleers away with a 3-pointer that increased the lead to 54-47 with 1:47 to go.

For a Coastal Carolina team that has gone 31-5 in Big South regular season play the past two years yet failed to earn an NCAA tournament berth, Saturday's loss was a bitter setback. The Chanticleers also lost in the Big South title game on their home floor a year ago against underdog Winthrop.

What will haunt Coastal Carolina most about this loss will be the way the Chanticleers seemed to turn the ball over each time they trimmed the deficit to two or three points. The Chanticleers played with just seven scholarship players and a seldom-used walk-on throughout the tournament, yet it was unforced errors rather than personnel issues that proved the most costly.

UNC Asheville's victory was the culmination of a season-ending six-game win streak that ironically began at Coastal Carolina two weeks ago.

In that game, the Bulldogs needed a Dickey steal and 3-pointer at the buzzer to pull off an unlikely victory. This time, however, no such buzzer-beating heroics were required.

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