ROCK HILL, S.C. – Every Winthrop game with Gardner-Webb is a spirited contest. For a half Sunday, it looked as though the Runnin’ Bulldogs would claim their third win in a row over the Eagles while wearing their home uniforms.
Much as they have done all year, though, the Big South leaders found a way.
Winthrop overcame a rare halftime deficit and shot nearly 60 percent in the second half Sunday afternoon, claiming a 91-83 victory over Gardner-Webb and continuing its undefeated 2020 campaign.
“Give Gardner-Webb a lot of credit,” Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey said. “It’s hard to beat a really good team that’s really well-coached two nights in a row.”
The sides battled through a spirited first half, as is often the case between the two regional rivals. Neither club could separate by greater than two possessions, until Gardner-Webb (3-8, 2-4 Big South) broke open a tied game with a 7-0 burst keyed by five Jaheam Cornwall points. Winthrop (11-0, 8-0) responded just as quickly, producing a 9-0 outburst keyed by five Kyle Zunic points to again seize the lead.
The tight margin remained so through much of the remainder of the half. Just one basket separated the clubs until the last 1:18 of the period. Following a Chandler Vaudrin trey that gave his side a two-point lead, Gardner-Webb answered. Jacob Falko contributed a bucket and two free throws, keying an 8-0 spurt by the visitors from Boiling Springs.
Gardner-Webb took a 46-40 margin to the interval, marking the first time Winthrop had trailed after 20 minutes this season. The six-point deficit with which the second half started also marked the biggest such second-half deficit for the Eagles in the 2020 campaign.
“I think the first half was one of the best of the season,” said Gardner-Webb coach Tim Craft. “Guys were playing together and really connected on both ends of the floor. In the second half we tried to slow things down a bit, but Winthrop just hit shots.”
Winthrop charged out of the locker room with a 6-0 run to draw the game level for the ninth time, and a trade of buckets ensued thereafter. The Eagles broke loose for another 8-0 burst capped by a Vaudrin triple from the right arc, providing a nine-point lead that induced a Gardner-Webb request for stoppage at the 10:11 mark. Winthrop extended the run to 12-1, as Gardner-Webb managed just one basket in a span of greater than eight minutes.
By the time a Jamaine Mann dunk broke that seal, the Eagle lead had swelled to 14. Gardner-Webb continued to battle, drawing the game within eight at the 3:47 mark. A quick flurry from the Runnin’ Bulldogs drew the visitors within four with 33 seconds to play, as two forced turnovers led to conversions on successive trips. Winthrop halted the run from there, though, salting away the game at the charity stripe.
“(Russell Jones) hit six huge free throws late in the game,” stated Vaudrin. “For Russ to come in and make all those free throws was a huge shoutout to his work of late.” Jones went 6-for-6 from the line, all in the final 1:36.
Jacob Falko led Gardner-Webb and all scorers, pouring in 20 points behind an 11-for-12 effort from the free throw line. Jaheam Cornwall tallied 18 on 7-for-11 shooting, while D’Maurian Williams contributed 12. Gardner-Webb shot 46.2 percent (30-for-65) from the deck, despite connecting on just 1-of-11 second-half tries from distance.
Four Eagles finished in double figures. Vaudrin paced the Eagles with 17, adding eight boards and six helpers. Charles Falden finished with 15, while DJ Burns added 14 and Jones 11. The Eagles shot 58.8 percent (30-for-51) in the game, knocking down 47.6 percent of tries (10-for-21) from beyond the arc.
“I’m happy, but not satisfied (with my performance),” commented Burns. “There were definitely a lot of areas where I could have done better, and I’m gonna try to make that the focus going into these next few games.”
Both teams return to action for two-game series Thursday and Friday. Gardner-Webb travels to the Dedmon Center in Radford, Virginia, to take on Radford University. Winthrop will host Longwood. Each of those games is slated to tip at 6:00 (Eastern) and will stream over ESPN+.