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UNC-Asheville pulling from past NCAA Tournament experience

Head coach Nick McDevitt of the North

Head coach Nick McDevitt of the North Carolina-Asheville Bulldogs dances with his team following their 77-68 victory against the Winthrop Eagles during the championship game of the 2016 Big South Tournament at Pope Convocation Center on March 6, 2016 in Buies Creek, North Carolina. Credit: Getty Images / Lance King

UNC-Asheville will make its fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament on Friday afternoon at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

The 15th-seeded Bulldogs, the Big South champion, will play No. 2 Villanova in a first-round game with a 12:40 p.m. scheduled tip.

UNC-Asheville has had some success in the NCAA Tournament, winning two games in its history (2003 and 2011).

Head coach Nick McDevitt has been there through it all. After his playing career ended at UNC-Asheville in 2001, McDevitt joined the coaching staff and was an assistant for 10 years. He became associate head coach in 2011 and took over as head coach — the sixth in program history — in April 2013. McDevitt succeeded Eddie Biedenbach, who he played for from 1997-01 and later coached under.

UNC-Asheville’s last tournament appearance was in 2012, when the Bulldogs — seeded 16th — lost to No. 1 seed Syracuse in the second round, although it was close (72-65).

McDevitt said the experience from the 2012 tournament can help this year’s team against Villanova.

“We talked about this week that one of the reasons we felt like we were in that game was because of our preparation leading up to that game,” McDevitt said during Thursday’s media availability at Barclays Center. “Our team wasn’t — that year, in 2012 — just happy to be here. They wanted to win and felt like they could win. So we talked to our young men here about having that same kind of attitude and effort leading up to the game.”

In their first tournament appearance in 2003, the Bulldogs beat Southern 92-84 in overtime in an opening-round game to earn a No. 16 seed and then lost to top-seeded Texas in the first round. UNC-Asheville earned another tournament bid in 2011, beating Arkansas-Little Rock 81-77 in overtime in a First Four game to earn another No. 16 seed, but lost to No. 1 seed Pittsburgh in the second round.

UNC-Asheville will now look to win another NCAA Tournament game on the big stage in Brooklyn.

“Really, it’s … hopefully not a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” McDeVitt said. “But at the same time, each one of those things individually — that is playing somebody like Villanova, playing in the NCAA Tournament, playing in the Barclays Center — those are things that not everybody gets a chance to do. We’re doing them all in one day.”

McDevitt knows it will take a huge effort to beat Villanova, which has lost in the first or second rounds five times since 2010.

“We want to compete tomorrow,” McDeVitt said. “We also want to advance. That’s going to be very, very difficult. So if we’re distracted in any way whatsoever, our chances are very, very limited.”

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