ASHEVILLE, N.C. – There’s just something about Gardner-Webb and Winthrop.

The regional rivals – the two schools are just over 50 miles apart – have faced off in a number of closely-contested games of late, including last season’s Big South Conference semifinal in Rock Hill.  The Eagles entered this year’s Big South quarterfinals having won eight straight against the Runnin’ Bulldogs.

Despite a tremendous challenge from Gardner-Webb, the streak continues.

Four Winthrop players finished in double figures, as the Eagles held off the pesky Runnin’ Bulldogs, 72-68, before an announced crowd of 1,159 in Kimmel Arena.

“Give Gardner-Webb credit.  They fought us tooth-and-nail, all the way down to the final buzzer,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey.  “[Gardner-Webb coach] Tim [Craft] does a phenomenal job.  I knew those guys wouldn’t fold.”

The teams participated in a hotly-contested first half – Kelsey routinely refers to these types of games as “tractor pulls” – following a strong initial burst by the higher seed.  Winthrop (19-11) controlled the action early, starting on an 11-2 burst and maintaining a multiple-possession lead for much of the first two segments.  Gardner-Webb (14-18) then made its charge, getting an 8-0 run of its own to take the lead for the first time at 20-19.  From there, the action considerably tightened, leading to a tied score at the halftime buzzer.  The Runnin’ Bulldogs limited the Eagles to just 34.6 percent (9-for-26) in the opening stanza, while connecting on 48 percent (12-for-25) of their tries.

Winthrop’s defense stiffened in the second half, while it got key contributions from its supporting cast.  After a back-and-forth start to the period, Winthrop finally created a bit of separation on back-to-back three pointers from Adam Pickett and Bjorn Broman that extended the Eagles’ lead to seven at the 7:54 mark.  The Runnin’ Bulldogs gradually chipped away at the lead, cutting the advantage to three on two separate occasions and two with four seconds to play, but Winthrop continually knocked down free throws to hold Gardner-Webb at bay.  The Eagles went 6-for-6 from the line in the final 22 seconds of the contest, which Kelsey dubbed “winning time” in his postgame remarks to media.  All six came from the Broman brothers, as Bjorn made four and Anders two.

The supporting contributions were especially timely for the Eagles, as Gardner-Webb limited Big South Player of the Year Xavier Cooks to just 11 points on 5-for-18 shooting, just two weeks after the senior star turned in a career effort (36 points, 16 rebounds, six blocks) against the Runnin’ Bulldogs on the road.  Freshman guard Kyle Zunic, who played sparingly in that game while recovering from an appendectomy, spoke after the game of the team picking up its star.

“We just feed off him.  He’s our leader,” said Zunic.  “We all look to him, and we had to back him up on the offensive end tonight, and we did.  We fought through.”

“Obviously, we did a pretty good job on him.  Down the stretch, he did what great players do, though,” said Craft.  “I don’t know if it was two or three buckets late, that they needed a bucket and he got one … We obviously did a nice job on him, to hold him to 5-for-16.  He hasn’t had many games like that.”

Gardner-Webb guard Liam O’Reilly led all scorers, pouring in 20 points on 6-for-13 shooting.  David Efianayi added 16, while D.J. Laster contributed 11 for the Runnin’ Bulldogs.  The ‘Dogs shot 43.6 percent (24-for-55).

Pickett and Anders Broman led the Eagles with 15 apiece.  Pickett added five rebounds and two assists before fouling out.  Zunic scored 13, while Cooks added 11.

Winthrop and Radford will face off in Friday’s first semifinal game.  The teams will tip it off at 6:00 (Eastern) on ESPN3.


GARDNER-WEBB (14-18): Zeck 0-0 0-0 0, Laster 3-11 4-4 11, Cornwall 3-6 0-0 9, O’Reilly 6-13 5-6 20, Efianayi 6-11 4-5 16, Jamison 3-7 0-0 6, Jenkins 3-6 0-0 6, Niangane 0-1 0-0 0, . Totals 24-55 13-55 68.

WINTHROP (19-11): Cooks 5-16 1-2 11, Ferguson 1-3 4-6 6, A. Broman 4-10 3-3 15, B. Broman 1-7 6-6 9, Pickett 5-7 2-2 15, Ukaegbu 0-0 0-0 0, Zunic 5-10 0-0 13, Awad 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 22-54 16-19 72.

Halftime — Tied 32-32. 3-Point Goals—Gardner-Webb 7-19 (Laster 1-3, Cornwall 3-6, O’Reilly 3-7, Efianayi 0-2, Jenkins 0-1), Winthrop 12-32 (Cooks 0-4, A. Broman 4-10, B. Broman 1-6, Pickett 3-5, Zunic 3-6, Awad 1-1). Fouled Out — Jamison (GWU), Pickett (WU). Rebounds — Gardner-Webb 37 (Efianayi 7), Winthrop 28 (Ferguson 8). Assists —Winthrop 13 (Cooks/A. Broman 3), Gardner-Webb 9 (O’Reilly 6). Total Fouls — Gardner-Webb 19, Winthrop 14. Technical — None. A — 1159.

Points in the Paint —Gardner-Webb 32, Winthrop 20. Points off Turnovers —Winthrop 21, Gardner-Webb 12. Second-Chance Points — Gardner-Webb 8, Winthrop 6. Fast Break Points — Gardner-Webb 2, Winthrop 0. Bench Points — Winthrop 16, Gardner-Webb 12.

Big South Tournament Schedule

Quarterfinals – Thursday, March 1 – ESPN3

Game 3: #2 Radford 59, #10 Longwood 53, 1:00pm
Game 4: #3 Winthrop 72, #6 Gardner-Webb 68, 3:00pm
Game 5: #1 UNC Asheville vs. #8/9 winner, 7:00pm
Game 6: #4 Campbell vs. #5 Liberty, 9:00pm

Semifinals – Friday, March 2 – ESPN3

Game 7:  Semifinals – Radford vs. Winthrop, 6:00pm
Game 8:  Semifinals – Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 8:00pm

Championship – Sunday, March 4 – ESPN

Game 9:  Championship – Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 1:00pm