The Radford University men’s basketball team took sole possession of first place in the conference standings with a 90-70 victory over the Big South preseason favorite UNC Asheville Bulldogs at the Dedmon Center on Saturday.
The win moves Radford to 10-6 overall including a 3-0 record in Big South play, the first time the program has begun conference play with three straight wins since the 2009-10 season. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs drop to 8-8 and 1-2 against Big South opposition.
Four Highlanders scored in double-figures, led by junior forward Ed Polite Jr. who scored a career-high 29 points on 9-of-10 shooting. The Lanham, Md. native added eight rebounds, four steals, a block and an assist.
Redshirt freshman Carlik Jones was hoping to bounce back from a subpar performance against Winthrop on Wednesday night and he did just that, pouring in 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting while tallying five assists and five rebounds.
Senior center Randy Phillips scored 12 points, but more importantly collected a career-high four blocks while sophomore guard Travis Fields Jr. supplemented the scoring with 11 points and five assists of his own.
The Highlanders took a 37-32 lead into the halftime break, their sixth straight game holding an advantage through 20 minutes.
Fueled by Phillips’ first seven points of the day, Radford got off to a fast start and took a 10-2 lead just three minutes into the contest. UNC Asheville struck right back, however, racing out on a 15-2 run to make it 17-14 in their favor.
It didn’t take long for the Highlanders to regain their mojo, striking out on an 11-2 run in the middle of the period with six of those points coming from Polite Jr.
Tied at 32-all with just under two minutes to go, the Highlanders used back-to-back baskets from Polite Jr. and Jones, as well as a free throw from Fields Jr., to end the half on a mini 5-0 run.
The second half looked like it would be all UNC Asheville, at least at first, when the visitors burst out of the locker room to begin the period on a 14-0 run.
Down 46-37 at that point, Radford locked in and completely took over the game. The Highlanders dominated on both ends of the court to outscore the Bulldogs, 53-24, over the final 16 minutes of the contest.
A 53.8-percent (14-for-16) clip in the first half and a 63.0-percent (17-for-27) shooting percentage in the second half powered the Highlanders to their best performance from the floor to date.
UNC Asheville’s Ahmad Thomas led his team in scoring with 15 points while Kevin Vannatta was their top rebounder and playmaker with nine boards and four assists.
Radford takes a 36-35 lead in the all-time series with UNC Asheville. Saturday marks the first time the Highlanders scored 90+ points since posting 91 against Central Penn on Nov. 16, 2016,
Polite Jr. had not made multiple 3-pointers in a single game in his career until last week. He has now done it in three straight games, making nine of his 16 career threes since starting conference play. He also set season highs with nine free throws made and 11 free throws attempted.
Jones and Fields Jr. grabbed two steals apiece. The Highlanders also out-rebounded the Bulldogs, 33-24.
Radford improves to a perfect 5-0 at the Dedmon Center and a near-perfect 9-1 when leading at halftime
Mike Jones’ squad shared the ball well, recording 19 assists on 31 made baskets
“It’s a great win for our team. Obviously when you can win five games in a row it’s great, but starting your league off 3-0 is the way you want to do it. It’s a long way to go and we understand that. I thought our guys made it through the first half of the game. It wasn’t one of our best first halves, but defensively we still held them to 32 and it gave us a chance to keep a little bit of a lead. The second half was back-and-forth. Under the eight-minute timeout we told them that this team wouldn’t lie down. They have a lot of pride and they’re going to fight for a win. I thought down the stretch our guys played a high level and we shared the ball well, which is why I thought we scored a lot of points,” said RU Head Coach Mike Jones.