Coming off a tough, 12-point loss to host Texas Tech in a game that ended just after midnight on the East Coast, Gardner-Webb (0-2) found itself against Mid American Conference favorite Akron on Tuesday night.
The Zips (1-1) were upset by Arkansas-Little Rock on Monday night, and took their frustrations out on the young Bulldogs in the consolation round, closing out the first half with a 21-6 run – turning a tie game into 15-point lead at the break. The second half saw things get worse, as the Zips kept GWU at bay with a relentless attack on the offensive glass to win, 89-61.
The game was evenly played early, but the Zips led the entire way. Quade Milum hit a follow shot to put Akron in front 21-13 with just over nine minutes to play in the half, but Gardner-Webb rallied to tie the game with a 10-2 run, capped by a Jake Sims’ three-point bucket at the 6:22 mark.
Akron turned on the jets from the point, getting a hook shot from All-MAC forward Jeremiah Wood and back-to-back threes from Dru Joyce and Nick Dials to spark the end-of-half rally. An old-fashioned three-point play by Romeo Travis finally got the lead to double figures with 1:22 left in the half – then Joyce hit another three with 41 seconds left off a GWU turnover to push the margin to 12. Milum converted another GWU turnover into a dunk at the buzzer, giving Akron a 44-29 lead at the break.
Akron came out of the locker room on fire, scoring five straight points to get take a 49-29 lead before Gardner-Webb could catch its breath. The Bulldogs would not cut the lead any closer than 16 the rest of the way, as Akron dominated the offensive glass and hit enough shots to steadily pull away.
Gardner-Webb shot 44.4 percent from the floor (24-of-60), but saw Akron corral 20 offensive rebounds, for 28 second-chance points and a 48-30 edge on the glass. GWU made just 7-of-25 three-point baskets (28.0 percent).
Chris Gash led the way with 12 points, hitting 5-of-7 shots (2-of-4 from three). Thomas Sanders (10 points, seven rebounds) and Jake Sims (10 points) also finished in double figures for GWU. Ricky McPhee, who had a career-best 22 points in the opener Monday night, was held to eight points on 3-of-10 shooting.
Akron got 19 points from Travis and 16 points, 12 rebounds from Wood to pace a potent attack in the paint that resulted in 50 interior points. Milum, a long 6-foot-8 reserve, added 12 points for the Zips – while Joyce pitched in with nine markers.
Akron shot 51.4 percent (37-of-72) for the game.
The road gets much tougher for the ‘Dogs quickly, as Gardner-Webb travels to face No. 2 North Carolina on Sunday afternoon in Chapel Hill. The game will be televised on FSN South, with Mike Hogewood and Mike Gminksi calling the action from the Smith Center. Opening tip is set for 1 pm ET.