BOILING SPRINGS – Gardner-Webb hosts first-place Winthrop Thursday night, welcoming the Eagles for a 7:00 pm tip in Paul Porter Arena.
The Runnin' Bulldogs (11-10, 4-4 Big South) are two games out of second place, and three behind the Eagles (15-4, 7-1 Big South) entering the last week of the first half of league play. Thursday's game will stream live on the Big South Network (bigsouthsports.com), with Fabian Fuentes providing the call.
Gardner-Webb is coming off a 78-61 home win over Presbyterian, which saw the 'Dogs pilfer 19 steals and outscore the Blue Hose by a 24-8 margin in transition points. GWU also heated up from long range, nailing 10-of-26 from distance (40.0 percent) and putting four men in double figures.
Point guard Laquincy Rideau was at his all-around best, posting a team-high 15 points and tying a 30-year old Big South record with 10 steals. He added seven rebounds and four assists to lead the Runnin' Bulldogs in four different categories.
Rideau's steals marked a new GWU single-game record as well.
Winthrop enters Thursday's affair riding a six-game win streak and have won 11 of 12 overall – more than living up to preseason expectations. The Eagles were a unanimous pick to win the Big South heading into the season.
Guard Keon Johnson – the preseason Big South Player of the Year – has shouldered the load again, ranking second in the conference with 20.3 points per game. His 38-point outburst at Illinois helped the Eagles to a 84-80 overtime victory.
Winthrop also has a double-figures road win at St. Louis on its resume', with an 8-2 road ledger one of the more impressive combination of numbers on a strong stat sheet.
The Eagles are also battle-tested in league play, coming off a week that saw back-to-back wins over fellow first-place teams UNC Asheville (home) and Liberty (road).
In addition to Johnson's scoring, Winthrop is getting 15.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game from stretch forward Xavier Cooks – who is averaging close to a double-double in league play (13.6 ppg, 9.9 rpg).
The Eagles have won three in a row against Gardner-Webb, including an 82-69 win to eliminate the Runnin' Bulldogs in last year's Big South Conference semfinals. GWU had won four in a row in the series prior to Winthrop's win streak, but the Eagles' lead the overall series 15-9.
Thursday marks the first of two regular season meetings between the two schools this season.