BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. – Mission – well, missions — accomplished.
Sure, there was the on-court mission, which we’ll get to in a minute, but the bigger mission for Gardner-Webb Wednesday night at Paul Porter Arena was raising money to donate toward disaster relief in Florida and beyond. The final gate total was not immediately available, but the school raised $1,390 in cash from fans in what it called the “Miracle Minute”, in which cheerleaders passed around boxes through the stands. The calling was particularly special to Runnin’ Bulldogs coach Tim Craft.
“The real thing that we set out to do is (to) raise support and some funds that will all go to Samaritan’s Purse for disaster relief,” said Craft. “I’m from Florida, my wife’s from Florida, we have all kind of family down there. Coach (Jeremy) Luther is also from Florida, and (we have) four guys on the team (from Florida). We’ve got (guard) Nate Johnson from Miami, and two from Orlando (guard David Efianayi and forward/center Brandon Miller), and (forward) D.J. Laster from Pensacola. That was something that was great for them to get behind and show that they’re gonna try to give back to their communities where they’re from.”
Oh, and there was the thing of a basketball game.
Craft’s Runnin’ Bulldogs got 16 points from Efianayi, a preseason second-team all-Big South selection, and shot 52.5 percent from the field on the way to an 82-70, exhibition victory over visiting Wofford Wednesday night.
“We wanted to just play against somebody else, (to) defend things that we’re not used to guarding. Wofford was a great opponent to do that with,” stated Craft after the game. “That was awesome for us, to have to prepare for that, and then do it live.”
The visiting Terriers stumped Gardner-Webb a bit early on, holding the lead – albeit admittedly a small lead – for the first eight minutes of the contest. An Efianayi layup tied the game at 13 just before the second media timeout of the half, and a Patrick Zeck layup off an assist from freshman guard Jaheam Cornwall gave the Runnin’ Bulldogs their first lead at 15-13 just after that break. Wofford guard Fletcher Magee drained a triple on his team’s ensuing possession to again wrest the lead for his club.
From there, though, the Runnin’ Bulldogs lived up to their nickname.
A Liam O’Reilly jumper capped a 15-4 Gardner-Webb run, quickly stretching the lead to double digits at 30-20 as the clock ticked under five minutes in the half. The double-digit advantage withstood the teams trading baskets as time wound down, with the home side taking a 39-29 lead to the locker room at the interval.
Gardner-Webb quickly took its largest lead of the game as the festivities resumed, with Zeck splashing a trey to push the margin to 49-31 at the 17:13 mark. With any Mike Young-coached team, there is always a run to be had, and a 12-2 Terrier run quickly appeared shortly thereafter. That burst cut the Gardner-Webb lead to eight and forced a timeout.
The break served the Runnin’ Bulldogs well, however, as Craft’s club quickly bounced back. The lead quickly swelled back to double figures, and would draw no closer. A Christian Turner bucket at the 7:10 mark pushed the lead to 69-51, matching the largest advantage of the evening.
Craft quickly commented on his team’s performance after the contest. “We didn’t guard them very (well) in the second half, but we scored enough,” opined Craft. “In the second half, they exposed us a little bit in some areas, for sure, and the big guy really got it going, Cam Jackson, but it was great for us.” To Craft’s point, Wofford shot just shy of 59 percent (17-for-29) in the second stanza, though Gardner-Webb’s 60 percent (18-for-30) did the Terriers one better.
Wofford shot 48.1 percent (26-for-54) from the floor, despite doing itself in a bit from the free throw line. The Terriers sank just 12-of-27 attempts from the stripe (44.4 percent). Jackson particularly struggled, missing all 10 of his tries. Center Matthew Pegram paced the Terriers, scoring 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting from the floor, and snatching four boards. Guard Nathan Hoover joined the big man in double figures, converting 5-for-8 from the floor (3-for-5 from three) to add 14.
Efianayi’s 16 led the Runnin’ Bulldogs, coming on 7-for-8 shooting. Zeck added 12 in a reserve role, adding seven boards. Gardner-Webb shot 52.5 percent (32-for-61) on the night.
Both clubs begin regular-season play next Friday. Wofford will host SEC foe and 2017 Final Four participant South Carolina, opening the doors on brand-new Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium. That game will tip at 7:00 (Eastern) and be televised on ESPN3. Gardner-Webb will travel to 12th-ranked Miami (Florida) to face the Hurricanes. The game is slated for an 8:00 (Eastern) start, and will be shown over the ACC Digital Network.
GARDNER-WEBB 82, WOFFORD 70
WOFFORD (0-0): Jackson 4-8 0-10 8, Pegram 6-9 3-4 15, Magee 3-13 1-2 8, Hoover 5-8 1-1 14, Theme-Love 3-6 1-2 9, Brooks 0-0 0-0 0, Murphy 0-0 2-2 2, Lowery 0-0 0-0 0, Hollowell 1-5 3-4 5, Aluma 4-5 1-2 9. Totals 26-54 12-27 70.
GARDNER-WEBB (0-0): Laster 2-6 1-1 5, Niangane 1-1 1-2 3, Robateau 3-10 0-0 7, Turner 2-2 2-2 7, Efianayi 7-8 1-2 16, Cornwall 2-4 2-2 7, Jamison 4-8 0-0 8, O’Reilly 4-8 0-0 9, Johnson 1-2 0-0, Miller 2-6 1-2 5, Zeck 4-6 3-3 12. Totals 32-61 10-13 82.
Halftime — Gardner-Webb 39-29. 3-Point Goals—Wofford 6-16 (Jackson 0-1, Magee 1-4, Hoover 3-5, Theme-Love 2-3, Hollowell 0-3), Gardner-Webb 8-21 (Laster 1-1, Robateau 1-5, Turner 1-1, Efianayi 1-1, Cornwall 1-2, Jamison 0-2, O’Reilly 1-5, Johnson 1-2, Zeck 1-2). Fouled Out — Laster (GWU). Rebounds — Gardner-Webb 36 (Robateau 9), Wofford 30 (Jackson 9). Assists — Wofford 16 (Magee 5), Gardner-Webb 15 (Cornwall 5). Total Fouls — Gardner-Webb 22, Wofford 13. Technical — NA. A — NA.
Points in the Paint —Gardner-Webb 46, Wofford 30. Points off Turnovers —Wofford 15, Gardner-Webb 9. Second-Chance Points — Gardner-Webb 11, Wofford 9. Fast Break Points — Gardner-Webb 4, Wofford 4. Bench Points — Gardner-Webb 44, Wofford 14.