BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. – Giving back is something of a habit for Gardner-Webb coach Tim Craft and his family.
Two years ago, Craft and Gardner-Webb joined forces with Wofford to participate in an exhibition game to provide hurricane relief in storm-ravaged Florida, from which he and many of those on his roster at the time hail. Saturday, the Runnin’ Bulldogs joined forces with Elon to do the same thing a little closer to home.
Gardner-Webb opened the doors to Paul Porter Arena to let Runnin’ Bulldogs and Phoenix fans come watch their teams play, all while donating the proceeds of the game to the United Way in Cleveland and Alamance Counties. Craft and his family made donations to cover the ticket costs for all students in attendance.
Those in attendance Saturday got to help those in need, and were also given the privilege of a rather entertaining basketball game.
Gardner-Webb got 22 points from Jose Perez, all while staving off a spirited Elon comeback late in regulation, in securing a 71-68, overtime victory over the Phoenix Saturday evening.
“We got a lot of film to show. It’s great where you can focus on five guys, instead of watching ten,” explained Craft. “It’ll be a huge learning experience. Plus, we got a ton of end-of-game experience. It was close at the end, (and then) we go overtime, and it was close. We had to operate out of a press break, and do a lot of things that we’re gonna have to do as we get started here.”
The Runnin’ Bulldogs lived up to their name early, jumping out to an early lead that swelled as high as 26-9. Elon connected on just two of its first 19 shots, with none of its first nine tries from distance finding the mark. The Phoenix went on a quick 8-0 burst nearing the final segment of the half, utilizing an aggressive driving style to earn trips to the free throw line.
“We’ve gotta do a better job of defending without fouling and protecting the paint,” stated Craft. “I thought they exposed us a little bit, for sure.”
Gardner-Webb created some separation as the half closed, earning a 36-22 margin that it took to the interval. Forward Ludovic Dufeal scored six of his team’s first eight out of the break, helping extend his team’s advantage to 16 at 44-28. Elon then clamped down on defense and made its charge, whittling away the lead. The margin gradually decreased to seven, then four, and two on several occasions, as Elon knocked down greater than 54 percent of its second-half shots.
Despite numerous attempts by the Phoenix to finally erase the deficit and complete the comeback, it took nearly the entirety of regulation for Elon to draw level. The visitors erased a four-point Gardner-Webb lead in the final 24 seconds, first on two free throws from Marcus Sheffield II, then on a Sheffield layup with nine seconds to play. Perez’ three-point attempt circled out at the horn, sending the sides to overtime.
Senior guard Justin Jenkins found himself with extended playing time late in the game after junior Nate Johnson fouled out, and he made the most of the extra minutes. Jenkins connected on just one of his two three-point tries, but the shot came at a perfect time, as the top-of-the-key triple 36 minutes into the extra period gave his club a lead it would not relinquish.
“I thought he had a great night,” said Craft of Jenkins. “I thought he was physical – (he had) four defensive rebounds, (and) he made a huge three there to start overtime. I thought he was a big factor for us.”
Perez’ 22 paced Gardner-Webb and all scorers, though Dufeal provided an equally compelling story. Dufeal logged time in just 18 games as a freshman, owing to injuries and other concerns, while averaging just 2.4 points in 9.1 minutes per game. The sophomore poured in 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting, adding seven boards. The performance caught the eye of his coach.
“He’s a year older, and (has) a year in the system. He is more athletic,” said Craft of Dufeal. “We need him to be good. He’s gonna be a big part of what we’re doing. It was a good day for Ludovic. He got a lot of experience out there.”
Forward Eric Jamison Jr. contributed 16 points and nine boards in 36 minutes for the Runnin’ Bulldogs.
Stanford graduate transfer Sheffield led the Phoenix with 18, and Craft noted some opportunities for his team that came from his performance.
“I thought he got it to the rim quite a bit on us in a lot of different ways,” stated Craft. “He got to the foul line a bunch. We struggled to keep him off the foul line. He had 18 (points), so we didn’t do a great job. His percentages weren’t great, but he obviously got to the foul line too much.” Sheffield supplemented his 4-for-12 performance from the field by knocking down 10-of-12 tries from the charity stripe.
Forward Simon Wright logged a double-double for the Phoenix, scoring 12 points and snaring 10 boards in 30 minutes of action. Guard Andy Peck added 11.
Both teams open their regular-season schedules Tuesday, November 5. Elon will welcome Division II Mars Hill University to the Schar Center for a 7:30 (Eastern) tip. Gardner-Webb will host Furman of the Southern Conference in a game slated to tip at 7:00.
To contribute to the Dunks for Dorian hurricane relief campaign to raise money for victims, text DunksforDorian to 41444, or follow this link.
GARDNER-WEBB 71, ELON 68 (OT)
ELON (0-0): Hannah 1-3 2-5 4, Wright 4-7 4-4 12, Sheffield II 4-12 10-12 18, Wooten 1-4 0-0 3, Woods 0-5 3-5 3, McIntosh 2-8 4-4 8, Ervin 3-9 0-0 9, Pack 5-12 0-0 11. Totals 20-60 23-30 68.
GARDNER-WEBB (0-0): Perez 5-17 10-12 22, Dufeal 7-9 1-2 15, Cornwall 1-7 4-4 7, Jamison Jr. 6-15 4-8 16, Johnson 1-8 0-0 3, Terry 0-1 0-0 0, Jenkins 2-4 0-2 5, Turner 0-1 0-2 0, Reid 1-1 1-2 3, Bryant 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-63 20-32 71.
Halftime — Gardner-Webb 36-22. 3-Point Goals—Elon 5-29 (Wright 0-2, Sheffield II 0-4, Wooten 1-3, Woods 0-4, McIntosh 0-4, Ervin 3-7, Pack 1-5), Gardner-Webb 5-23 (Perez 2-6, Cornwall 1-5, Jamison Jr. 0-2, Johnson 1-6, Terry 0-1, Jenkins 1-2, Turner 0-1). Fouled Out — Woods (EU), Johnson (GWU). Rebounds — Elon 46 (Wright 10), Gardner-Webb 44 (Jamison Jr. 9). Assists —Gardner-Webb 10 (Perez/Cornwall 4), Elon 8 (McIntosh 3). Total Fouls — Gardner-Webb 24, Elon 22. Technical — NA. A —NA.
Points in the Paint —Gardner-Webb 36, Elon 22. Points off Turnovers —Gardner-Webb 7, Elon 6. Second-Chance Points — Gardner-Webb 11, Elon 4. Fast Break Points — Elon 2, Gardner-Webb 0. Bench Points — Elon 28, Gardner-Webb 8.