By Brian Wilmer, @SportsMatters

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. – “It was a weird game, to me.”

That quote from Gardner-Webb coach Tim Craft to open his postgame media remarks said a mouthful about the Runnin’ Bulldogs Big South Conference opener. High Point got 21 points from Miles Bowman Jr. and held Gardner-Webb at bay after a quick second-half burst, defeating Craft’s club 71-64 before 1,014 fans at Paul Porter Arena Thursday night.
Gardner-Webb (7-7, 0-1 Big South) shot a blistering 52.2 percent (12-for-23) from the floor in the opening 20 minutes of the contest, on the strength of four Jamaal Robateau three-pointers. High Point (7-6, 1-0) shot just 40 percent in the period, but hung around after turning seven Gardner-Webb turnovers into 11 points. The Runnin’ Bulldogs also converted just 2-of-9 free throws in the period.

The visiting Panthers emerged from the interval with a vengeance, knocking down their first six shots of the stanza and using a 10-2 run to turn a one-point halftime deficit into a seven-point lead. The tone of the game largely swung on that first four-minute stretch, a fact not lost on Craft.

“At the end of the day, we just didn’t guard them in the second half,” said Craft. “They kind of found something, an action that was giving us problems in the first half, and they kind of just kept going to it, and it gave us issues. We finally made an adjustment, but we probably did that too late.”

The Runnin’ Bulldogs indeed put together a 6-0 run near the midway point of the period, as back-to-back David Efianayi conversions cut the High Point advantage to two and forced a timeout from Panthers coach Scott Cherry. Efianayi again knocked down a bucket to cut the Panther lead to 46-45, but the visitors again pulled away, eventually stretching the margin as high as 11 points before finally salting away the contest at the free throw line.

“We couldn’t get a stop when we needed to get a stop. We got back in it – they came out of halftime and scored (on) the first – I don’t know how many possessions they scored on – to start the half. As we got back in it, we couldn’t get that stop that we needed to get over the hump,” stated Craft. “I don’t think our attention to detail defensively was very good, and I think High Point really did a great job executing, and had a good plan.”

Part of High Point’s plan surely involved forcing turnovers, and the Panthers converted 13 Runnin’ Bulldog giveaways into 20 points. “Their zone, they were really active, I thought, and they were really spread out. We were having trouble just finding clean looks. We turned it over some against the zone, and it led to a couple easy baskets for them,” said Craft. “We ended up getting shots against it, and we shot 48 percent for the second half, but I just felt like we were never in a rhythm. Credit their defense for that.”

Gardner-Webb All-Conference forward Tyrell Nelson was largely held in check by the Panther defense, as a combination of fronting and doubling helped to limit the senior star to just four points on the evening. That effort and concentration on Nelson led to a huge game for sophomore guard LaQuincy Rideau. Rideau tallied 22 points on 8-for-16 shooting from the field, pacing all scorers. Robateau added 12, while Efianayi scored 11.

High Point was led by Bowman Jr.’s 21, as the redshirt senior knocked down 9-of-13 tries, including 3-for-4 from distance. Seniors Anthony Lindauer and Tarique Thompson contributed 15 and 13 points, respectively. Lindauer added a career-high seven assists from the guard position.

Both clubs continue their respective Big South Conference slates Saturday. High Point welcomes Longwood to the Millis Center for a 4:00pm (Eastern) tip. Gardner-Webb travels to UNC Asheville for a 2:00 tip at Kimmel Arena.

HIGH POINT (7-6, 1-0 BIG SOUTH): Madison 2-9 0-0 4, Bowman Jr 9-13 0-0 21, White 0-2 1-2 1, Wright 2-3 1-3 7, Lindauer 4-12 5-6 15, Williams 1-2 0-0 3, Thompson 6-11 1-2 13, Vargo 0-0 0-0, Thomas Jr 0-0 0-0 0, Fox 2-3 3-5 7. Totals 26-55 11-18 71.

GARDNER-WEBB (7-7, 0-1): Nelson 1-6 2-2 4, Niangane 1-1 0-2 2, Robateau 4-11 0-0 12, Rideau 8-16 5-10 22, O’Reilly 3-7 0-2 7, Turner 1-1 0-0 2, Efianayi 5-5 1-3 11, Miller 0-1 0-0 0, Laster 2-2 0-0 4. Totals 25-50 8-19 64.

Halftime—Gardner-Webb 31, High Point 30. 3-Point Goals—High Point 8-13 (Madison 0-1, Bowman Jr 3-4, Wright 2-2, Lindauer 2-3, Williams 1-1, Thompson 0-1, Fox 0-1), Gardner-Webb 6-17 (Robateau 4-9, Rideau 1-3, O’Reilly 1-5). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—High Point 32 (Madison/Lindauer/Thompson/Team 5), Gardner-Webb 34 (Nelson 14). Assists—High Point 21 (Lindauer 7), Gardner-Webb 13 (Rideau 6). Total Fouls—High Point 17, Gardner-Webb 17. Technical—None. A—1014.

Points in the Paint—Gardner-Webb 30, High Point 28. Points off Turnovers—High Point 20, Gardner-Webb 4. Second-Chance Points—Gardner-Webb 7, High Point 6. Fast Break Points—Gardner-Webb 12, High Point 9. Bench Points—High Point 23, Gardner-Webb 17.