BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. – Saturday was a pretty special day for Jose Perez.
The Gardner-Webb freshman made just his third start as a Runnin’ Bulldog. His team had its home opener after playing its first eight games on the road. His mom was medically cleared to fly in from New York to watch him play.
Oh, and there was that triple-double thing.
Perez led his team with 17 points, snagged 10 boards, and dished out 10 dimes in a dominant 97-60 victory over Savannah State before an announced crowd of 1,559 at Paul Porter Arena.
“This is my first one (triple-double), from middle school to high school to college,” said Perez. “I’m playing with some very good teammates. My teammates made shots all night.”
The game started as a bit of a back-and-forth affair, with the sides playing for the second time in 15 days (Gardner-Webb won a 97-77 contest in Savannah on November 15). Savannah State (3-7) got a game-opening three from John Grant Jr., then quickly countered a 9-0 Gardner-Webb run with a burst of its own to reduce the Runnin’ Bulldog lead to 11-8.
If basketball games are like boxing matches, however, the home side scored an early-round TKO.
Gardner-Webb (4-5) unleashed a punishing 24-3 run over roughly the next seven minutes, turning that 11-8 lead into a 35-11 advantage, and laying the foundation for what eventually unfolded.
“I thought our team did a good job. They came out with the right mindset in the first half,” said Gardner-Webb coach Tim Craft. “I thought we had the right approach there in the first half, and really shared the ball and just played the game the right way.”
Savannah State got a small burst to close the half, but still found itself trailing, 49-29, at the interval. 32 of Gardner-Webb’s first-half points came in the paint, fitting in with the Runnin’ Bulldogs offensive mantra.
The onslaught continued into the second half.
Zaquavian Smith splashed a three-pointer off a sprayed pass from Tyrell Harper at the 15:25 mark, drawing the Tigers within 19 and giving the visitors a bit of an open door to draw closer. The Runnin’ Bulldogs quickly slammed that door shut, though, putting together a 17-6 burst over a six-minute span and extending the lead to 30.
Savannah State knocked down a triple on its ensuing possession, but a Nate Johnson three just seconds later returned the lead to 30. It would stretch as high as 40 before the final horn.
Craft sung the praises of his team’s defensive effort after the game, even in the same breath in which he acknowledged the crisp play of his offense.
“I thought we were active, and one pass away in gaps,” said Craft. “They can spread you out, because they can shoot it, but we want to be in those gaps and be able to try to plug them and get deflections, and we got quite a few.” Gardner-Webb forced 17 turnovers (10 steals), from which it generated 21 points.
Perez’ 17 points led the Runnin’ Bulldogs, and his play drew the praises of his coach.
“Great performance by Jose. He played terrific,” said Craft. “(He was) really efficient, and a heck of a game by him, for sure.”
Perez acknowledged the special nature of his achievement taking place in front of the home crowd in Paul Porter Arena.
“It’s amazing playing in front of the home crowd,” said Perez. “It was just a great atmosphere. I just wanna tell the fans that we’re gonna be a wreck in the Big South.”
Four additional Runnin’ Bulldogs joined Perez in double figures. Nate Johnson tallied 15, with DJ Laster scoring 14, David Efianayi 13, and Justin Jenkins a career-high 12. Gardner-Webb shot 50 percent (36-for-72) in the contest and enjoyed a 53-42 rebounding advantage.
Perez’ triple-double was the first by a Runnin’ Bulldog since Bruce Fields achieved the feat against Voorhees in February of 2001.
Jaquan Dotson scored 15 to pace the Tigers. Tyrell Harper tossed in 10 for the visitors. Savannah State shot just 28.4 percent (21-for-74) for the game, with just 28.9 percent (13-for-45) of tries from distance finding the mark.
Savannah State will play on the road for the next month-plus, with its next game at South Dakota State on December 11. That game is slated for an 8:00 (Eastern) tip. Gardner-Webb continues its homestand with an Education Day contest on Thursday against Bob Jones University. That game will commence at 11:00.
GARDNER-WEBB 97, SAVANNAH STATE 60
SAVANNAH STATE (3-7): Harper 4-12 0-0 10, Grant Jr. 1-4 0-0 3, J. Smith 0-3 0-0 0, Sellers 1-7 0-1 3, Dotson 4-9 3-4 15, Z. Smith 2-9 0-2 6, Joseph 3-8 0-0 8, Hansen 4-12 1-3 9, Saeed 1-6 1-2 3, Dubose 1-4 0-0 3. Totals 21-74 5-12 60.
GARDNER-WEBB (4-5): Laster 6-8 2-2 14, Turner 1-1 0-0 3, Perez 7-11 1-3 17, Johnson 6-16 0-0 15, Efianayi 4-11 4-6 13, Alston 2-3 3-5 7, Cornwall 1-3 0-0 3, Jenkins 4-10 2-2 12, Miller 2-3 2-2 6, Kincaid 1-4 0-0 3, Dufeal 2-2 0-0 4. Totals 36-72 14-20 97.
Halftime — Gardner-Webb 49-29. 3-Point Goals—Savannah State 13-45 (Harper 2-4, Grant Jr. 1-4, J. Smith 0-2, Sellers 1-5, Dotson 4-9, Z. Smith 2-6, Joseph 2-5, Hansen 0-4, Saeed 0-2, Dubose 1-4), Gardner-Webb 11-32 (Laster 0-1, Turner 1-1, Perez 2-3, Johnson 3-9, Efianayi 1-4, Cornwall 1-3, Jenkins 2-7, Kincaid 1-4). Fouled Out — NA. Rebounds — Gardner-Webb 53 (Alston 11), Savannah State 42 (Hansen 11). Assists — Gardner-Webb 28 (Perez 10), Savannah State 16 (Sellers 6). Total Fouls — Savannah State 13, Gardner-Webb 13. Technical — Broadnax (SSU). A — 1559 (3500).
Points in the Paint —Gardner-Webb 48, Savannah State 14. Points off Turnovers —Gardner-Webb 21, Savannah State 10. Second-Chance Points — Savannah State 23, Gardner-Webb 14. Fast Break Points — Gardner-Webb 16, Savannah State 2. Bench Points–-Gardner-Webb 35, Savannah State 29.