SPARTANBURG, S.C. – There’s an old suggestion among coaches to never play your friends. When you’re a well-respected coach like Wofford’s Jay McAuley or Gardner-Webb’s Tim Craft, though, friends are hard to avoid.
Saturday night, McAuley, who was an assistant at Gardner-Webb from 2010 to 2013, got the better of his friends.
Wofford shot 50 percent for the game and knocked down 11 treys, holding off a tough challenge from regional foe Gardner-Webb, 81-77, before an announced crowd of 1,389 at Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium.
“To hold that team to 46.7 percent from the field and (to do) another good job from three (22.7 percent), I think we did a pretty good job of adjusting in some areas,” said McAuley. “That was a tough bunch that we just played that is gonna win a lot of ballgames.”
The sides played a back-and-forth first eight minutes, with Gardner-Webb maintaining a small lead throughout. Tray Hollowell then dropped a triple from the top of the key, unleashing a brief celebration as he gave his side the lead, 18-17, with 12:03 remaining in the half. The Terriers then assumed the role of maintaining a small, consistent advantage.
Nate Johnson converted a four-point play near the seven-minute mark to slice the Wofford margin to three at 30-27. The Terriers then raced out on a 16-4 run over the ensuing four-and-a-half minutes, growing their lead to as many as 15 points. Wofford enjoyed a stretch late in the stanza in which it sank 9-of-10 shots from the field, helping to keep Gardner-Webb at arm’s length.
“(That was a) rough first half for us,” said Craft. “We weren’t ready to play, and we weren’t ready to compete at the level we needed to compete in the first half. I’m proud of the guys for the second half. I thought we played (well) in the second half. We fought to get stops, and had a chance to get back in the game and make it competitive. We just didn’t have enough purpose defensively in that first half.”
Gardner-Webb (3-6) emerged from the locker room and raced out to an 8-0 run, cutting a 48-37 lead at the interval to a single possession. Wofford (5-4) countered with an 8-2 burst, getting a Messiah Jones bucket, followed by back-to-back triples from Storm Murphy and Trevor Stumpe. After the Runnin’ Bulldogs fought to again reduce the score to a single possession on a Justin Jenkins basket and Ludovic Dufeal free throw, Hollowell again drained a contested triple to stretch the lead back to six.
The battle ensued throughout the half, with the margin reduced to a precarious point at 67-66 on two Kareem Reid free throws with 4:50 remaining. Wofford countered with back-to-back Jones dunks, and another Stumpe triple swelled the lead back to six with two minutes to play. Two Jaheam Cornwall jumpers cut the Wofford advantage to four, but the Runnin’ Bulldogs could draw no closer.
“I thought Trevor had a few moments there where he was a leader for us and weathered the storm. We just needed to calm down a little bit. Some guys were trying to do a little bit too much,” said McAuley. “We’re gonna have those moments, but it’s just about weathering that storm. League play’s gonna be no different. I was proud of our guys for finishing that game out.”
Wofford placed four players in double figures. Jones tallied 18 off the bench, combining with Hollowell’s 16 to provide the Terriers’ 34 reserve points. Stumpe added 14 in 31 minutes of play. Storm Murphy contributed 16 for Wofford, though there was a lack of certainty about whether or not he would be able to play.
“Storm was not gonna play tonight,” said McAuley, mentioning Murphy was battling a nagging injury. “He told me right before the game, ‘I wanna go.’ He decided to gut it out, and hopefully, we’ll have a week to rest him a little bit.”
Eric Jamison paced all scorers with 22 for Gardner-Webb, connecting on 9-of-16 tries from the field. Jose Perez added 14, with Ludovic Dufeal totaling 12. Johnson finished with 10, before leaving the game with an undisclosed injury to his right foot.
Both sides are off until Friday. Wofford will stay at home to host North Greenville in a 7:00 (Eastern) tilt. Gardner-Webb travels to Kennesaw State, in a game that is also slated to begin at 7:00.