ROCK HILL, S.C. – A cold-shooting second half proved costly for Gardner-Webb Saturday afternoon, as Winthrop surged into the lead and took a 77-71 win in a key Big South Conference matchup.
The Runnin' Bulldogs (14-13, 7-7 Big South) dropped their second game in a row, despite a strong display offensively in the first half to take a 41-40 lead at the break.
Winthrop (19-6, 11-3 Big South) finally took its first lead on the first possession of the second half when Keon Johnson knocked in three free throws for a 43-41 advantage.
Gardner-Webb fell behind by as many as six points in the second half's early going, but cut the lead back to 54-52 on a Tyrell Nelson three-pointer with 13:53 on the clock. The Runnin' Bulldogs would make only two more field goals the rest of the way.
A solid performance at the free throw line during that field goal drought kept the game close enough, and Liam O'Reilly's free throws with 2:50 on the clock cut the Eagles' lead to 69-67.
Winthrop, which found success on the offensive glass in the final 20 minutes, took advantage of a carom on the next possession late in the shot clock. Anders Broman's catch-and-shoot three after that rebound pushed the Eagles' lead back to 72-67 with 2:22 to play – and Nelson was whistled for an offensive foul on the other end to give the ball back with 2:13 left in the game.
Laquincy Rideau finally broke a field goal drought of more than nine minutes with a layup, but the Eagles made enough free throws down the stretch to pick up the win.
Gardner-Webb came out firing on all cylinders early in the first half, as Rideau made three consecutive plays – a layup and two assists – to power an early 8-0 spurt. The 'Dogs were able to force tempo early, getting out and running during that stretch after four consecutive Winthrop misses.
An 8-3 Winthrop run cut the lead to 15-13 with 12:48 before the half, after reserve Adam Pickett ripped a steal and raced in for a layup. Gardner-Webb responded with another run, however, going on a 7-0 spurt to go up 26-18 with 7:58 on the first half clock. Jamaal Robateau scored five of those points himself.
A 5-0 run out of the next media timeout pulled Winthrop close, as Duby Okeke shook free underneath for a dunk and Xavier Cooks found Rod Perkins wide open for a corner three-pointer – trimming the lead to 26-23 at the 6:51 mark.
Foul trouble mounted for the Runnin' Bulldogs, and played a key role the rest of the way. Nelson went to the bench with his second foul early in the first half and Rideau – who started the game in rhythm – was saddled with his second and sat for the final five minutes of the half.
The two teams traded buckets at a high rate over the few possessions, with Winthrop's Josh Davenport and Robateau scoring in back-and-forth fashion. Four-straight free throws by Keon Johnson – his first points of the game after scoring 40 on Thursday night – pulled the Eagles within 34-31 with 3:58 left before half.
Each time Gardner-Webb extended its lead over the final few minutes of the half, Winthrop responded. After D.J. Laster's three with 46 seconds left pushed the 'Dogs up 41-37, Cooks answered with a triple of his own on the next possession for a 41-40 score that held into the locker room.
The Eagles shot 38.8 percent for the game (26-of-67), but managed 15 offensive rebounds and forced 19 Gardner-Webb turnovers. The rebounds only resulted in 12 second-chance points, but the turnovers were costly – resulting in a 24-12 edge for Winthrop in transition points.
Cooks led all scorers with 22 points and 10 boards on 8-of-21 shooting and Johnson managed 15 points despite suffering a 2-for-19 day from the floor. He did make 11-of-12 free throws. Perkins added 10 points for the Eagles.
Gardner-Webb shot a sizzling 57.7 percent in the first half (15-of-26), but cooled to 34.8 percent in the second (8-of-23) to finish at 46.9 percent for the game.
Efianayi led the way with 13 points and eight rebounds, with Robateau and Nelson each scoring 11. Rideau added 10 points, six assists and five rebounds before fouling out in 28 minutes of action. Laster came off the bench to score nine points on 3-of-5 shooting.
The Runnin' Bulldogs will return home, hosting Radford on Wednesday night at 7:00 pm in Paul Porter Arena. The game will stream live on ESPN3 (WatchESPN.com), with Evan Lepler and Jeff Jackson calling the game from press row.
For more information on the game call Gardner-Webb athletics (704) 406-4340.