BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. – David Efianayi’s penultimate bucket Wednesday night was special, for more reasons than one.
On one hand, the tip-in with one second on the shot clock gave his Gardner-Webb squad a four-point lead and held off a furious late-game Presbyterian rally. On the other, the conversion made the redshirt senior guard Gardner-Webb’s all-time leading scorer in the Division I era, passing star forward Tyrell Nelson.
From either perspective, the bucket loomed large. Efianayi finished as one of three Gardner-Webb scorers in double figures, as the Runnin’ Bulldogs turned away the Blue Hose, 78-70, before an announced crowd of 1,285 in Paul Porter Arena.
“(We’re) happy to hold on and win it. I think PC is just a really hard team to defend,” said Gardner-Webb coach Tim Craft. “We made just enough plays and got just enough stops to be able to come out with the win.”
Gardner-Webb (19-11, 9-6 Big South) found itself ahead by just a bucket early, despite hitting its first seven shots, before a 14-2 run opened up a 14-point lead at the 11:11 mark of the first half. A Nate Johnson dunk six minutes later extended the Runnin’ Bulldog advantage to 20, leading Blue Hose coach Dustin Kerns to request a timeout. The stoppage briefly stemmed the tide, as Presbyterian closed the half on a 9-3 burst to head to the locker room down 45-31.
“I thought our first-half start was just critical, holding them to 38 percent, and then offensively really playing well,” said Craft. The Blue Hose connected on just 12-of-31 first-half tries, going 4-for-14 from three. The Runnin’ Bulldogs, conversely, poured in 18-of-32 (56.3 percent) of their tries.
Presbyterian (17-13, 9-6) struggled to gain traction early in the second stanza, before tearing off a 9-3 run to slice the Gardner-Webb margin to five at 62-57. An Efianayi bucket nearly three minutes later extended the lead back to nine, but the Blue Hose again countered. Francois Lewis cashed in a layup to cap a 7-0 run that left the Runnin’ Bulldogs lead precariously dangling at 70-68.
After a furious play on the ensuing possession that required official review, Gardner-Webb was left with the lone tick on the 30-second timer. That set the stage for Efianayi to float in the lane and tip in the inbounds pass, a blow from which Presbyterian was unable to recover.
“As they were reviewing (the call), we (had) time to get our team on the same page with what we wanted to run,” said Craft. “I thought (guard Jaheam Cornwall) threw a perfect pass, and Dave got up and finished it. That was a big bucket.”
“That’s a play that I warm up to,” said Efianayi. “Those just around-the-rim layups, hook shots…I do that every day before my workout, so I felt pretty confident.”
Presbyterian played without star point guard Davon Bell, who missed the game with a shoulder injury suffered in Saturday’s victory over UNC Asheville. Three Blue Hose players finished in double figures, paced by Adam Flagler’s 16 on 6-for-17 shooting (3-for-10 from distance). JC Younger added 14 off the bench, with Lewis tallying 12. Lewis scored 29 in the clubs’ first meeting, a 103-101 PC victory in Clinton, including the three free throws that won the game.
“(Our defense on Lewis) was good,” stated Craft. “He’s best at making shots, but they do a great job of getting him around the rim when he has a mismatch on him. I thought we fought and worked to keep it out of the post. I thought we did a pretty good job there.”
“(He’s) just a long guy,” said Runnin’ Bulldog forward DJ Laster. “We tried to just be more physical and tougher than (he was) today, and I think we succeeded.”
Laster finished just two points shy of equaling his career-high of 25, earned earlier this season at Georgia Tech. The Pensacola, Fla., native tallied 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting, while adding six boards. Efianayi added 19, bringing his career points total to 1,671. Freshman Jose Perez finished with a double-double, scoring 14 points and snagging 12 caroms.
Both teams complete regular-season play Saturday afternoon. Presbyterian welcomes Charleston Southern to the Templeton Center for a 4:00 (Eastern) tip. Gardner-Webb hosts Longwood for its Senior Day. Tip time in Paul Porter Arena is slated for 3:00.
GARDNER-WEBB 78, PRESBYTERIAN 70
PRESBYTERIAN (17-13, 9-6 BIG SOUTH): Hightower 2-4 0-0 4, Lewis 5-12 1-2 12, Shubert 2-6 1-2 6, Crouch 1-5 1-2 3, Flagler 6-17 1-2 16, Martin 3-3 3-3 9, Drake 3-6 0-0 6, Younger 5-11 0-0 14, Kay 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-65 7-11 70.
GARDNER-WEBB (19-11, 9-6 BIG SOUTH): Laster 10-13 1-2 23, Turner 0-2 0-0 0, Perez 4-12 5-6 14, Johnson 3-11 0-0 6, Efianayi 8-14 2-2 19, Cornwall 2-5 2-2 8, Jamison 2-3 1-2 6, Jenkins 1-3 0-2 2, Miller 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 30-64 11-16 78.
Halftime — Gardner-Webb 45-31. 3-Point Goals—Presbyterian 9-32 (Lewis 1-8, Shubert 1-3, Crouch 0-2, Flagler 3-10, Younger 4-8, Kay 0-1), Gardner-Webb 7-22 (Laster 2-3, Turner 0-2, Perez 1-3, Johnson 0-5, Efianayi 1-2, Cornwall 2-4, Jamison 1-1, Jenkins 0-2). Fouled Out — NA. Rebounds — Gardner-Webb 39 (Perez 12), Presbyterian 38 (Lewis 8). Assists —Gardner-Webb 17 (Cornwall 6), Presbyterian 13 (Hightower/Shubert/Crouch/Flagler/Martin/Younger 2). Total Fouls — Presbyterian 16, Gardner-Webb 13. Technical — NA. A —1285.
Points in the Paint —Gardner-Webb 46, Presbyterian 34. Points off Turnovers —Presbyterian 15, Gardner-Webb 13. Second-Chance Points — Presbyterian 11, Gardner-Webb 6. Fast Break Points — Gardner-Webb 6, Presbyterian 5. Bench Points — Presbyterian 29, Gardner-Webb 16.
CURRENT BIG SOUTH STANDINGS