Asheville — WLOS - Mike Morrell has been a part of tons of wins. In nine of his eleven previous seasons in NCAA Division I basketball Morrell has been in the Big Dance. Under former mentor Shaka Smart, Morrell saw 160 victories from 2011 through his hiring in the spring of 2018.
All of those were as an assistant. Thursday night, it was Morrell's name officially entering record books. In his first game as the UNC Asheville head basketball coach, Morrell's squad responded in spades with an 87-47 win over NAIA opponent St. Andrews. "Just like the players,for me its the same trying to get those first game jitters out," laughed Morrell. "I was talking to DeVon [Baker] before the game, and I said, 'You know the adrenaline is going to hit you and you're going to get a little more tired early.' I didn't know it was going to hit me too!"
The first year head coach was not unprepared for the moment, however. Jeremy Ballard, the new head coach at Florida International University and Morrell's closest friend, made his debut Wednesday night. "He said, 'Man, you're going to have all these different emotions.' That's exactly what it was," explained Morrell. "I just tried to focus on the guys and help them be successful."
Baker in particular had a lot of success in the 40-point win. He led the way with 27 points in 29 minutes. He was 3-of-4 from three point distance and also corralled 6 rebounds. "We were just ready," Baker said after the game. "We've been working out, working hard for a long time." For a first game, the stat sheet shows a fairly clean game, especially considering this was the college debut for seven Bulldogs. The home team only turned the ball over 9 times and dominated the boards 54-20. "We just all played together," Baker added. "This is our first time playing in front of a big college crowd. We just all played with energy."
UNCA jumped out to an 11-point lead with 12:41 remaining in the first half and never allowed the Knights to come within seven the rest of the game. They led by 20 at halftime and stretched the advantage to 30 by the 11:45 mark. "I thought it was pretty good," Morrell said of his teams opener. "We talk all the time about trying to knock out of the park the things that we can control. The things we control are great enthusiasm, great energy."
The schedule gets much tougher starting with game number two. Next week the Bulldogs have road trips to NC State and Northern Kentucky before returning to Kimmel Arena to host Coastal Carolina and Manhattan. "We've got to look at this game through a realistic lens heading into next week where we play four really good programs," stated Morrell.