WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Nothing ever comes easy for a coach. For Gardner-Webb coach Tim Craft, the final minute of Saturday’s game at Wake Forest must have seemed like a year.
“(That was) the longest minute,” said Craft. “That was tough to watch.”
Despite the agonizing 60 or so seconds, Craft and his club held on. Gardner-Webb connected on 14-of-16 free throws in the final 1:06, staving off a late charge from Wake Forest and holding on to win, 73-69, in front of an announced crowd of 5,975 at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The win marked the Runnin’ Bulldogs’ eighth in a row, and second road decision over an ACC team in 12 days.
“(That was) certainly not the outcome that we wanted. We didn’t do enough of the things that we needed to put ourselves in a situation to win the ball game,” said Wake Forest coach Danny Manning.
The first half of play had to leave one to wonder whether the agony would extend longer than that final minute.
The sides took a bit to shake off the rust from the Christmas holiday break. Gardner-Webb (10-5) got its first bucket on a David Efianayi layup 37 seconds into the contest, but would go five-and-a-half minutes before again hitting the scoreboard. Wake Forest (6-5) notched its first mark from the field on a Chaundee Brown triple nearly eight minutes in, with the Deacs’ first two-point conversion – again from Brown – coming with 2:53 to play.
“When you get to the free throw line, or you get five to six feet (from) the hoop, you expect to make a good percentage or a good amount of those,” said Manning. “In the first half, we didn’t do that. I thought we missed at least five to six layups in that first half.”
The visiting Runnin’ Bulldogs limited Wake to just 5-for-21 shooting (22 percent) in the first half, forcing 13 Demon Deacon turnovers. Gardner-Webb gradually heated up on offense, converting 12-of-31 first-half tries (38.7 percent). Wake induced 11 Runnin’ Bulldog miscues in the opening stanza.
Separation continued to be a struggle into the second period, as Wake Forest shook off two separate occasions on which Gardner-Webb tied the game in the opening three minutes. The Demon Deacons could extend their lead no further than five, however, which set the stage for the Runnin’ Bulldogs to fight back and snag momentum.
Gardner-Webb drew within one as the under-eight media break approached, as it began what would be a decisive 15-0 run. Wake Forest was unable to convert on a three-point attempt, and a DJ Laster three-point play on the other end gave Gardner-Webb its first lead of the second half at 44-42. The visitors continued to ramp up the pressure, holding the Deacs without a basket for nearly eight minutes in the second half.
“We had opportunities. We had some decent looks at it. It just didn’t go in,” said Manning. “You’re not gonna make all the shots that you take.”
The margin grew to 12 for the visitors near the final media break, before Wake Forest mounted a charge in the closing segment. Brandon Childress knocked down a triple to reduce the Gardner-Webb lead to seven with 1:58 remaining, then another Childress three two possessions later cut it to six. Brown connected on another three seconds later, reducing the deficit to five.
Childress then drew fouls on consecutive three-point tries, parlaying the contact into six free throws. The final of those six tries sliced the margin to a single possession with seven seconds remaining. The Deacs could not force a turnover on the inbounds play, however, and Gardner-Webb salted away the game at the charity stripe.
Manning spoke after the game of the road ahead for his team as it prepares for ACC play.
“We’ve gotta come out and we’ve gotta continue to take steps,” said Manning. “There is no hidden recipe, other than coming in and wanting to get better every day, wanting to improve, and wanting to continue to stack days. That’s what it’s all about.”
Efianayi paced four Runnin’ Bulldogs in double figures with 15, converting 7-of-9 from the line. Jose Perez added 14, Christian Turner 13, and Laster 12. Turner’s contributions were particularly key, as he played 33 minutes while spelling fellow point guard Jaheam Cornwall, who battled foul trouble before fouling out with 10 minutes remaining.
Gardner-Webb made good on 35-of-40 tries from the stripe (87.5 percent), including the numerous conversions in the final minute. The Runnin’ Bulldogs also enjoyed a 39-35 rebounding advantage over the Demon Deacons.
Wake Forest also placed four in double figures, with Childress’ 18 leading the Deacs and all scorers. Childress connected on 8-of-11 tries from the line, from which Wake was 28-for-37. Jaylen Hoard, Torry Johnson, and Brown added 12 apiece for the home side.
Gardner-Webb travels to Campbell next Saturday to begin Big South Conference play. Tip time from Gore Arena in Buies Creek will be 4:30 (Eastern). Wake Forest hosts Cornell Wednesday night in its final non-conference tilt. That game will get underway at 7:00.
GARDNER-WEBB 73, WAKE FOREST 69
GARDNER-WEBB (10-5): Laster 3-9 6-6 12, Turner 2-3 8-8 13, Perez 2-11 10-12 14, Johnson 1-4 3-3 6, Efianayi 4-7 7-9 15, Miller 2-2 1-2 5, Alston 0-1 0-0 0, Jenkins 0-1 0-0 0, Dufeal 0-1 0-0 0, Cornwall 0-2 0-0 0, Jamison 4-10 0-0 8. Totals 18-51 35-40 73.
WAKE FOREST (6-5): Hoard 3-6 6-6 12, Smart 0-1 0-2 0, Childress 4-11 8-11 18, Johnson 2-8 7-9 12, Brown 4-10 1-2 12, Mucius 2-8 2-2 7, Wynn 0-1 0-0 0, Sarr 1-3 4-4 9, Wright, Jr. 1-4 0-1 2. Totals 17-52 28-37 69.
Halftime — Wake Forest 28-26. 3-Point Goals—Gardner-Webb 3-15 (Laster 0-1, Turner 1-2, Perez 0-4, Johnson 1-4, Jenkins 0-1, Dufeal 0-1, Cornwall 0-2, Wake Forest 7-25 (Hoard 0-1, Childress 2-6, Johnson 1-4, Brown 3-9, Mucius 1-2, Wynn 0-1, Wright, Jr. 0-2). Fouled Out — Laster (GWU), Cornwall (GWU), Hoard (WF), Sarr (WF). Rebounds — Gardner-Webb 39 (Johnson 7), Wake Forest 35 (Sarr 9). Assists — Gardner-Webb 11 (Perez/Johnson/Efianayi 3), Wake Forest 7 (Childress 3). Total Fouls — Wake Forest 29, Gardner-Webb 26. Technical — NA. A — 5975 (14665).
Points in the Paint —Gardner-Webb 30, Wake Forest 16. Points off Turnovers —Gardner-Webb 12, Wake Forest 10. Second-Chance Points — Wake Forest 8, Gardner-Webb 6. Fast Break Points — Wake Forest 31, Gardner-Webb 18. Bench Points—Wake Forest 15, Gardner-Webb 13.