Updated: Apr 5
Photo: Wofford Athletics
BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. – Familiarity, it is often said, breeds contempt.
This is not the case when Wofford and Gardner-Webb play, but there are a lot of friendships involved. Terrier head coach Jay McAuley spent time as a Gardner-Webb assistant, as did his assistant, Paul Hemrick. Another assistant, Tyler Strange, was a star point guard for the Runnin’ Bulldogs several years ago.
Between the lines, though, the expected heated battle unfolded. Gardner-Webb and Wofford played a tight game throughout that featured five ties and six lead changes, but the Terriers held off the Runnin’ Bulldogs late in a 78-70 final.
“They execute at a high level, and that’s what makes it a challenge,” said Gardner-Webb coach Tim Craft of the regional rivalry. “It’s a challenge because they’re a good program. They’ve got a winning tradition, good players, and good coaches.”
The sides’ knowledge of each other helped keep the proceedings close for much of the opening 20 minutes. Wofford (7-3) led by as many as seven points on the strength of an 8-2 burst halfway through the period. A Keaton Turner triple reached that mark, which Gardner-Webb (4-5) countered with a 10-0 spurt of its own. Despite the outburst, the Runnin’ Bulldogs never led by more than four in the first half. Max Klesmit converted an up-and-under look nearing the horn to break a tied game and give Wofford a 38-36 margin at the interval.
As two players neared career-highs to start the second half, one started his quest early. Wofford forward B.J. Mack connected on a bucket to cap Wofford’s first possession, then put home a layup to drew ever closer. Jordan Sears knocked down a trey from the top of the key to draw the game level at 42, but Terrier makes on back-to-back possessions pushed the lead back to five. Mack later hit a free throw that swelled the lead to seven and brought him within a point of evening the mark. The Terrier forward would later crack his career-high of 24 with two free throws inside the 12-minute mark.
Following back-to-back Gardner-Webb buckets that sliced the lead to three and compelled a Wofford stoppage, the Terriers used consecutive possessions to cultivate their largest lead of the contest. Isaiah Bigelow canned a wing triple, then Klesmit pilfered a pass and scored on a run-out to extend the margin to eight.
The other player chasing a career-best, Gardner-Webb’s Lance Terry, found tougher footing. The Runnin’ Bulldog sharpshooter could not connect on his first six tries in the second stanza, but his side still managed to draw the game within two at 63-61. Ryan Larson hit a tough runner to bring the lead back to two possessions, then knocked down two free throws to make it six. The Runnin’ Bulldogs would eventually draw as close as four before the Terriers salted away the contest from the free throw line.
“I thought he had some pretty good looks and they just didn’t go down,” Craft said of Terry’s second-half performance. “I thought he got to the rim a few times … He just wasn’t able to knock them down.”
Mack’s 28 points led the Terriers and gave him a second-straight career-high effort, after he turned in 24 Sunday against Kennesaw State. Still, the Runnin’ Bulldogs limited Mack in the second half, encouraging Craft.
“We certainly did a little bit of a better job on him (in the second half),” Craft said. “He was just a force tonight. He also made some big buckets late. I did think (forward) Kareem (Reid) and (forward) Ludovic (Dufeal) did a better job on him in the second half.”
Two other Terriers joined Mack in double figures. Klesmit tallied 16 on 6-of-11 shooting, while Larson added 13. The Terriers enjoyed an 11-8 offensive rebounding advantage and outrebounded the Runnin’ Bulldogs, 38-27, which Craft mentioned as a concern. Mack also guided the Terriers to a 44-34 advantage in the paint.
Three Runnin’ Bulldog scorers also finished in doubles. Terry totaled 19 to lead the Runnin’ Bulldogs, with Sears contributing 12. D’Maurian Williams scored 11, adding to five assists and four boards for the home side.
Both teams will have a bit of a break as final exams conclude. Wofford returns to action Sunday at the HTC Center in Conway, S.C., where the Terriers will battle Coastal Carolina. Tip time is slated for 2:00 (Eastern). Gardner-Webb will travel to Cameron Hall in Lexington, Va., to take on VMI Saturday afternoon. That game is set to get underway at 1:00.
WOFFORD 78, GARDNER-WEBB 70
WOFFORD (7-3): Godwin 2-3 0-0 4, Mack 10-17 9-11 28, Klesmit 6-11 4-6 16, Larson 3-8 6-6 13, Safford 2-6 0-2 5, Bigelow 2-4 4-4 9, Patterson 0-1 0-0 0, Turner 1-3 0-0 3, Tripp 0-0 0-0 0 Totals 26-53 22-29 78.
GARDNER-WEBB (4-5): Reid 3-8 3-3 9, Dufeal 1-1 2-4 5, Terry 6-15 3-3 19, Sears 5-8 1-2 12, D. Williams 4-11 3-5 11, Z. Williams 1-3 0-0 2, Soumaoro 2-5 0-0 5, Selden 3-7 0-0 7. Totals 25-58 12-17 70.
Halftime — Wofford 38-36. 3-Point Goals—Gardner-Webb 8-19 (Dufeal 1-1, Terry 4-8, Sears 1-2, D. Williams 0-3, Soumaoro 1-3, Selden 1-2), Wofford 4-18 (Mack 0-3, Klesmit 0-2, Larson 1-5, Safford 1-4, Bigelow 1-3, Turner 1-1). Fouled Out — Safford (WOF). Rebounds — Wofford 38 (Mack 13), Gardner-Webb 27 (Z. Williams 6). Assists —Gardner-Webb 11 (D. Williams 5), Wofford 10 (Larson 5). Total Fouls — Gardner-Webb 24, Wofford 19. Technical — NA. A —552.
Inside the Numbers
You've read the story -- now let's go inside the numbers!
Mack attack: B.J. Mack was absolutely dominant for much of the night. He put together a career high Sunday, scoring 24 in a runaway Terrier victory over Kennesaw State. He did that one better -- well, four better -- Wednesday, putting forth a 28-point, 13-board effort. Craft said -- and he's absolutely correct -- that the 'Dogs better contained Mack in the second half. The bruising forward went just 3-for-7 in the second 20. I noticed one particular possession where Kareem Reid took inside position on Mack, forcing him flat to the baseline and compelling him to step out of bounds. That Mack had such a huge game against a Gardner-Webb team with two dominant defensive bigs is worthy of note.
Iron Lion Zion: Kansas City transfer Zion Williams played a key role off the bench for the 'Dogs, grabbing six rebounds despite only scoring two points. The 6-foot-4 guard played several minutes fronting Wofford's post players while Reid and Dufeal battled fouls. Fellow reserves Julian Soumaoro and Anthony Selden also offered key contributions, with freshman point guard Soumaoro's plus-10 in 18 minutes a significant number.
Klesmit's kismet: Sophomore Wofford guard Max Klismet made several absolutely vital buckets, starting with the up-and-under just before the halftime horn. The six-foot-three Wisconsin native went strong to the tin against bigger, taller players, drawing six free throw attempts in the process. He and Ryan Larson make as good a guard tandem as you'll see in the Southern Conference.
You've been blocked: The Runnin' Bulldogs turned away seven Terrier shots on the night, including four from Dufeal. Gardner-Webb's ability to contest at the rim will keep them in a lot of Big South contests, and has kept the 'Dogs in many of their non-league tilts thus far.
And finally, the Hustle Stats:
Points in the paint: Wofford 44, Gardner-Webb 34
Points off turnovers: Gardner-Webb 21, Wofford 18
Second-chance points: Wofford 16, Gardner-Webb 8
Fast-break points: Gardner-Webb 11, Wofford 3
Points per possession: Wofford 1.13, Gardner-Webb 1.029