DALLAS, Texas – Gardner-Webb hits the road for its first four games to begin the 2016-2017 men's basketball campaign, with the first coming at SMU Friday night (8:00 pm / ESPN3).
The Runnin' Bulldogs, picked to finish fourth in the Big South Conference race this preseason, will take on a strong Mustangs' team that was picked third in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) behind Cincinnati and UConn.
Head coach Tim Craft and his squad will play in front of a Moody Coliseum crowd that has helped power SMU to a 50-4 mark on its home floor since 2012-2013.
The Mustangs, coached this season by Tim Jankovich, feature preseason All-AAC forward Ben Moore and second-team All-AAC guard Shake Milton – both double figures scorers last season for a team that got off to an 18-0 start.
The combination of guards LaQuincy Rideau (6-1, 204, So.), Liam O'Reilly (6-2, 180, Jr.), David Efianayi (6-2, 175, R-So.), Jamaal Robateau (6-5, 180, R-Jr.) and Christian Turner (5-10, 180, Fr.) provides the Runnin' Bulldogs with significant versatility in the backcourt heading into 2016-2017, with Eric Jamison (6-4, 175, R-Fr.) and Nate Johnson (6-4, 190, Fr.) providing depth and shooting on the wing.
Nelson, a preseason All-Big South choice at power forward, has 20 double-doubles to his credit in three seasons to date – and is one of the team's most consistent performers. He closed out last season on a tear, earning All-Tournament honors after averaging 19.0 points and 10.0 boards per game in three Big South Conference Tournament games.
Niangane saved his best performance for last as well, anchoring the paint on both ends in the semifinals' loss to Winthrop. The team's tallest player posted his first career double-double in that game.
Friday's game will be a homecoming of sorts for Robateau, who played his junior season at South Oak Cliff (Texas) High just 12.6 miles from SMU's campus. The Australian guard played his senior season at Prime Prep in the Dallas area.
Gardner-Webb has run off four consecutive winning seasons – including a pair of 20-win seasons – heading into 2016-2017. That stretch is the longest for the Runnin' Bulldogs since a stretch of 14-straight winning seasons from 1969-1983.
Friday's game will air live on ESPN3 (WatchESPN.com). David Saltzman and Stephen Howard will provide the call, beginning at 8:00 pm EST.