BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. – There are few clichés more commonly-used than “a tale of two halves”. In Gardner-Webb’s case Wednesday, it proved true.
Radford shot 60 percent in the second half, countering both an icy first half and Nate Johnson’s career-high 27 points in fending off the Runnin’ Bulldogs, 67-64, at Paul Porter Arena.
“I thought we had a great response from the PC game (a 68-62 home loss to Presbyterian Saturday). I thought we really responded well, and played great in the first half,” said Gardner-Webb coach Tim Craft. “I thought our effort, and our fight, and all that stuff was pretty good. Just down there at the end, their guys made plays at the end, and we had opportunities, and we didn’t.”
Gardner-Webb (5-10, 1-2 Big South) charged out of the gate, seizing a 10-2 lead behind two Johnson threes. The Runnin’ Bulldogs kept control for much of the period, aside from a 6-0 burst that gave the Highlanders a 16-14 advantage. A Jaheam Cornwall triple on the ensuing possession returned the lead to the home side, which it parlayed into a 33-27 margin at the interval.
Radford (7-7, 2-0) fell behind by eight on threes by Ludovic Dufeal and Kareem Reid but countered with an 11-0 burst over the next three minutes that gave the Highlanders a lead they would not relinquish. Gardner-Webb sliced the lead to a single point on several occasions, but several would-be shots to retake the lead all harmlessly circled away from the rim.
“We certainly didn’t start the (second) half well at all,” said Craft. “We had the ball first, we had a layup right at the rim, (and) missed it … They made plays in that stretch, and we didn’t.”
The visiting Highlanders were unable to establish much separation, even with the Runnin’ Bulldogs struggling from the floor. The game remained within a possession for much of the second period, including the final Gardner-Webb trip.
After a Travis Fields free throw spun out for Radford, Gardner-Webb secured the rebound and ran up the floor to attempt to tie the game. Johnson was heavily guarded, however, and his final attempt fell short. Gardner-Webb managed to keep the ball after bouncing it out of bounds off a Radford defender, but only had 0.4 seconds remaining after a replay review. The Runnin’ Bulldogs inbounded for a good shot, but it also would not fall.
“It was designed for me,” said Johnson of the final possession. “I was trying to get as open as I could, but he was playing good defense.”
Johnson was the lone double-digit scorer for the Runnin’ Bulldogs. The junior Florida native dropped 9-of-19 tries from the field, with 8-of-14 tries from three finding the net.
“My teammates were setting me up nicely, and I just came prepared to knock down the shots, as usual,” said Johnson. “Luckily, they were falling in tonight.”
“I (felt) like he was capable of doing something like that anytime, any moment,” said Craft of the accomplishment. “He got some great looks tonight. I thought our players really helped him get good looks and made great passes to help him get open. He stepped up and made shots.”
Cornwall contributed nine points and six rebounds in 33 minutes of play. Jose Perez notched five of Gardner-Webb’s 16 assists.
Fields led all scorers with 16 for Radford. Preseason Big South Player of the Year Carlik Jones tallied 11, while Cle’Von Greene added 10 in 15 minutes off the bench for the Highlanders. Radford connected on 15-of-25 second-half tries, en route to a 37.7 percent (23-for-61) shooting performance.
Both teams continue Big South play Saturday. Radford will host Campbell in the Dedmon Center in Radford, Virginia, in a game scheduled to commence at 2:00 (Eastern). Gardner-Webb travels to Rock Hill, South Carolina, to battle Winthrop. Tip time from the Winthrop Coliseum is scheduled for 7:00.