I hadn't been to a game in 5 days and other than over Christmas, where game selection was limited, this was my longest stretch between games. It was going to be slow week and a half or so travelwise since I was only going to catch 2 Coastal Carolina home games on Thursday and Saturday. This 800GP experience has been a ton of fun so far this year and I was a bit disappointed that I wasn't going anywhere, but my car probably needed a bit of a rest I'm sure, after all the travel it wasn't used to.
I had been to CCU's past three road games and I thought they did pretty well on their mini road trip. It was a bit stressful as a fan as they had to squeak out games against High Point and Charleston Southern, while dropping another close one against Campbell. The overall play in the Big South seems to really have picked up this year, unlike recent years where one or two teams are easily the leaders of the pack.
One team that I had been overlooking so far was Gardner-Webb. In recent years the Runnin' Bulldogs had played everyone's teams tough, but it didn't reflect in their record as they couldn't finish teams off. They were able to put things together towards the end of last year, especially when they came to Conway and were able to end Coastal's 22 game winning streak. In that game, CCU lost their starting PG Kierre Greenwood for the season with a torn ACL and it was also leading scorer Desmond Holloway's last game before he was suspended due to an NCAA inquiry. With those key players out, a lot of people thought G-W would be able to pull off the upset again when the teams played in the 1 vs 8 game in the first round of the Big South tourney. Gardner-Webb was in it the whole game, but Coastal was able to advance.
This year the Bulldogs had a bit of an up and down non-conference performance, but were showing pretty well once Big South play began. To the surprise of no one, all of their games were close, but they were learning how to win especially with victories over Winthrop, Charleston Southern and High Point. I wanted to see for myself how G-W was doing it as I wasn't familiar with several of their newer players.
When I got to Kimbel Arena I was so relieved that the holiday break was over with. All of the students, cheerleaders, band and most of the fans were back. Granted, this is the same group I'm used to seeing at Coastal, but it was nice to have the experience back. A nice touch was that the CCU band learned a new song over the break and played a pretty good rendition of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'." While I know this wasn't breaking any new ground, it was better than hearing the same stuff they usually play or another crappy pop song being redone.
The crowd seemed fairly amped up as most of the students hadn't seen a game in about a month and a half. The psyched up crowd was silenced though as G-W notched the first 8 points of the game. Right away I was impressed with the Bulldogs' freshman Max Landis who seems a lot like a Matt Dickey clone from UNC-Asheville. He was playing with confidence early and you can really tell he's going to be a star in the Big South the next 4 years.
Gardner-Webb started off controlling the early tempo of the game. Coastal couldn't get anything going inside as the Bulldogs were swarming anytime the ball went inside the paint. On offense G-W was crashing the boards and drawing some fouls and maintaining an early lead of 14-6.
CCU finally revved things up as they went on a rapid fire 20-1 run. The run was spurred on by the defense with Sam McLaurin swatting away a couple of shots leading to transition buckets for Warren Gillis and some 3's for Chris Gradnigo, who poured in 10 of those points. G-W was forced to call a 30-second timeout to slow things down, which worked for the most part. The CCU run had ended, but the Bulldogs weren't making many open shots and trailed by eight at the half.
Going into the 2nd, neither team was gaining an advantage as Coastal's lead hovered around 8 with 10 minutes to go. Gardner Webb was able to cut the deficit down after they forced 2 shot clock violations and Landis was able to hit another big 3. Gardner-Webb's Tashan Newsome was stepping up for his team as well. He carried the Bulldogs for the late stages of the second half with 18 points including a layup with 17 seconds to go to cut the lead to one. Anthony Raffa was fouled for the Chants, but was only able to hit 1 of 2. Raffa then inexplicably fouled Newsome 30 feet from the basket to send him to the line where he ended up tying the game. Newsome ended up giving the gift back by sending Greenwood to the line to take the lead with 4 ticks remaining.
G-W had a chance to win if they could sink a 3 and I was expecting Landis to get the ball, but it ended up in the hands of Newsome who raced down the court and was able to get a 3 off...
Unfortunately, for the Bulldogs it clanged off the rim. The Chants pulled out another heart stopper and have sole possession of second place in the Big South behind undefeated Asheville. Their Tuesday matchup is looming large and will be a battle for 1st place if both teams can get past their tests this Saturday (and that is a big if with UNC-A having to travel to High Point and Presbyterian coming to Conway). Meanwhile, Gardner-Webb slipped back to the middle of the Big South pack, but they are a rugged team defensively that just needs to shoot the ball a bit better to really take the next step.
at COASTAL CAROLINA 65, GARDNER-WEBB 63 01/12/2012
GARDNER-WEBB 9-10 (4-3) -- K. Martin 6-13 3-8 15; M. Landis 6-13 1-2 17; S. Johnson 3-7 0-1 6; T. Newsome 7-19 7-8 21; K. Hartley 1-5 0-0 2; T. Strange 1-4 0-0 3; L. Buggs 2-6 3-4 8; D. Harper 1-3 1-2 3; M. Byron 0-3 2-2 2; J. Dawson 0-0 1-3 1; C. Hensley 0-2 0-0 0; D. Brown 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-62 15-22 63. COASTAL CAROLINA 12-4 (5-1) -- D. Nieman 3-6 0-0 7; S. McLaurin 3-8 0-1 6; K. Greenwood 7-11 4-4 18; C. Gradnigo 8-18 3-4 23; A. Raffa 0-9 1-2 1; W. Gillis 2-5 0-0 4; J. Pack 1-3 2-2 4; D. Moore 0-1 0-0 0; J. Griffin 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 25-63 10-13 65.
Three-point goals: GWB 6-20 (T. Newsome 0-3; L. Buggs 1-1; D. Harper 0-1; T. Strange 1-3; M. Landis 4-9; K. Hartley 0-3), CCU 5-19 (C. Gradnigo 4-10; A. Raffa 0-3; D. Moore 0-1; D. Nieman 1-2; J. Griffin 0-1; K. Greenwood 0-1; W. Gillis 0-1); Rebounds: GWB 36 (T. Newsome 11), CCU 39 (D. Nieman 8); Assists: GWB 10 (L. Buggs 3), CCU 14 (K. Greenwood 6); Total Fouls -- GWB 14, CCU 18; Fouled Out: GWB-None; CCU-None.