You’ve seen the recaps. Let’s take a dive into the two-game weekend series between Gardner-Webb and Winthrop.

Game 1

  • Working the windows: I don’t know if I recall a game before today where the two combatants hauled in north of 90 rebounds in regulation, but that’s now happened. Winthrop snared 48 caroms, while 44 misses took up residence in Gardner-Webb’s hands. Both teams finished in double figures in offensive rebounds, as well.
  • Talford up to the task: Winthrop freshman Kelton Talford presents an interesting component for the Eagles. The 6-foot-7 freshman who prepped at quasi-nearby Great Falls (S.C.), was a prolific scorer during his high school career, but is now being called upon to be a stretch-four as an Eagle. Talford played just 14 minutes against Gardner-Webb’s trio of athletic bigs, but still collected seven rebounds in that time. He’s still really young — and is growing — but the potential is obvious.
  • Sears catalogued: Gardner-Webb freshman Jordan Sears turned in a career-high 18 points and provided a much-needed lift off the pine. Sears also grabbed three rebounds in 25 minutes of game action, and looked every bit the part alongside star, All-Conference guard Jaheam Cornwall. There’s a lot to like with Sears and Cornwall sharing the floor, and with the return of Lance Terry, who is battling a foot injury, on the horizon, the ‘Dogs will have a number of legitimate quick-score options.
  • Loving the lane: Gardner-Webb outpaced Winthrop on points in the paint by nearly 2-to-1 (more on this later). A lot of this was a function of the Runnin’ Bulldogs finding driving lanes, but the team of Ludovic Dufeal and Kareem Reid in the paint also helped.
  • Non-stick treatment: One of the things one will learn about Pat Kelsey’s offense — and really, most offenses in America — is that the efficiency of the offense significantly improves as the ball moves. Winthrop assisted on 16 of its 22 made shots in game one, indicating the movement of the ball and willingness to make the extra pass to go from “good” to “great”.

And finally, the Hustle Stats for game 1:

  • Points in the paint:  Gardner-Webb 26, Winthrop 14
  • Points off turnovers:  Gardner-Webb 19, Winthrop 17
  • Second-chance points:  Gardner-Webb 12, Winthrop 10
  • Fast-break points:  Gardner-Webb 11, Winthrop 3

Game 2

  • First time for everything: I pointed out in the recap that Winthrop went to the locker room trailing at the half for the first time all season. I asked Chandler Vaudrin for his comment on the atmosphere in the locker room at the half, and he calmly responded:

I tried just to be as vocal as possible. I thought I didn’t play well in the first half. I didn’t take care of the ball. I’m driving elbows, and I know that they’re going to take the ball from me, and I was just being lazy. I told myself, ‘I’ve gotta take care of the ball. That’s my fault, fellas.’ I think we had 12 turnovers in the first half and it led to 20 points off turnovers. I just had to be better in that area.

The next thing was our defense. We can score. We’re not worried about that. We knew that we needed to play defense in order for us to win the game. I think for the first 10 minutes of the second half, they only scored 10 points, or something. Once we sit down and fix the defensive end, we’re a really hard team to stop. Offense will always come. It just takes a little bit sometimes.

Kelsey also commented on the team’s communication on the floor in the second half, about which I asked:

I think that (great communication) usually coincides with success defensively. If you’re out of a stance, there’s a chance you’re not executing on defense. If you’re not talking — I think it was Doc Rivers that said, ‘Your defense is only as strong as your most silent defender.’ That constant talk and communication is just huge, because the bullets fly fast in a basketball game.

In basketball, it just keeps going. It comes at you fast and furious. It’s one possession to the next, and it’s one action. It’s offense, it’s defense. It requires an unbelievable amount of synergy and communication on the floor, and I think having the veteran team that we have, we have great communication, and that is off the floor, as well. There’s just such buy-in from our guys.

  • Bettering Burns: DJ Burns mentioned to Alex Zietlow of the Rock Hill (S.C.) Herald and me that he felt he had some areas on which to improve. That quote ran in my game story. He mentioned specifically that he wanted to focus on defense and rebounding. I specifically asked him about whether or not he tried to draw Gardner-Webb’s combination of Reid and Dufeal away from the basket because of their capabilities of attacking at the rim:

For me, it was more trying to seal (Reid and Dufeal) off and get my teammates hot to give myself a good angle. Really, knowing that they are arguably if not the best shot-blocking team in the (league) … The main task was when our guys would drive, to get them away from the rim so we could get easier shots and make it easier for great things to happen without it having to be so hard every time.

  • Pain(t) points: Gardner-Webb again nearly doubled Winthrop in the paint in game 2. It didn’t totally matter, but it’s not likely that we’ll see another series where Winthrop gets so outperformed in the lane. More in the hustle stats.
  • Doubly deep: Winthrop’s depth is one of the big reasons why so many project them to be on their home deck for the Big South tournament. To wit: The Eagles played 12 players Sunday, as usual. 10 of those players played double-digit minutes. That depth led Vaudrin to tell Alex and me about the toll back-to-back games take on players, which then led into how the team prepares for those series:

It’s definitely something different that we haven’t experienced before. I know for us, we play the first game (of the series) and then we recover. It’s not (very) different for us, because after the game’s over, we take an ice bath, use Normatek, stretch at home, and just try to get as much sleep as we can. For the coaches, it’s a little bit different. They’re up later, and probably don’t get a whole lot of sleep.

We’ve got a lot of good coaches in the Big South — Coach Craft for Gardner-Webb is a great coach — and so it’s all about who can make the little tweak or little adjustment overnight and try to put it in place in shootaround.

We believe in what we do. It’s not really about who we’re playing. It’s about how good we can be at what we’re good at, and that kind of plays into our two-day back-to-back. If we play a team now and then (again) in three weeks, they might be able to make a ton of adjustments by then. In one night, you can’t make a lot of adjustments.

  • Three trouble: Gardner-Webb found itself playing from behind a lot in the second half, and the inability to convert on the three ball hampered the Runnin’ Bulldogs’ comeback effort. GWU canned just one of 11 second-half three tries — courtesy of D’Maurian Williams — in a period in which six ‘Dogs attempted a trey. This led to a lot of attempts at straight-line drives and the occasional drive under the basket and splash to a leaked shooter off a down screen or a corner three try. Coming off a first half in which it hit 5-of-13 from beyond the arc, this hampered the visitors a bit.

And finally, the Hustle Stats:

  • Points in the paint:  Gardner-Webb 46, Winthrop 26
  • Points off turnovers:  Gardner-Webb 26, Winthrop 17
  • Second-chance points:  Gardner-Webb 12, Winthrop 10
  • Fast-break points:  Gardner-Webb 9, Winthrop 7