BOILING SPRINGS – Gardner-Webb opens its Big South Conference season on Thursday night at home, hosting High Point at 7:00 pm in Paul Porter Arena.
The Runnin' Bulldogs (7-6) completed a grueling pre-conference schedule before Christmas, battling a league-high five opponents from high-major conferences in November and December. Gardner-Webb broke through on December 18 with a 70-62 win at Nebraska – the program's third victory over the Big Ten since 2005, and second since 2014.
Gardner-Webb, picked fourth in the preseason Big South Conference poll, has been led as expected by All-Big South forward Tyrell Nelson. The 6-foot-7, 235-pound senior has increased his scoring output in December, moving into the team lead with 13.6 points per game overall.
In six games so far this month, Nelson is supplying 17.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. His shooting percentage (68.2) has also risen in the final month of the year.
Rideau has risen to the challenge as Gardner-Webb's new starter at point guard, averaging a Big South-best 4.9 assists per game while ranking second in steals (2.7) and 11th in rebounding (5.5).
Rideau's rebounding total ranks second on the GWU stat sheet and he has narrowly missed a triple-double twice this season – going for nine points, nine rebounds and nine helpers in a 48-point win over Coker (11/29) and nine points, 10 assists and seven boards in a 50-point Warren Wilson (12/16) – both in limited minutes due to margin.
Wing Jamaal Robateau has settled in well as a starter this season, averaging 8.5 points per game and shooting a solid 38.9 percent from long range. The Australian junior made 5-of-9 from deep to power a 17-point effort at Kansas State (12/21) and heated up early for a career-high 26 points in a November loss to MAC contender Eastern Michigan (11/18).
Robateau has knocked in at least four triples in four different games this season.
Gardner-Webb holds a 14-11 series lead on its home court vs. High Point, but the Panthers have won two-straight games in Boiling Springs and own a 26-24 overall lead in series – which dates back to both programs' NAIA era in the 1970s.
High Point nipped the Runnin' Bulldogs, 66-64, on December 5 last season, before Gardner-Webb bounced back with a 79-74 win in High Point on February 3. GWU dropped both regular season meetings with the Panthers in 2014-2015, before knocking out the No. 2 seed in the Big South Conference tournament in Conway on March 6.
The Panthers (6-6) shoot the basketball well from long range this season, leading the Big South Conference at 39.6 percent (82-of-207). The team's top-5 scorers each shoot better than 37 percent from long range, with Anthony Lindauer (9.8 ppg) knocking down 25-of-57 chances (43.9 percent).
Leading scorer Andre Fox (14.2 ppg) has made 18-of-40 from three-point range (45.0 percent) and forward Miles Bowman, Jr., (11.8 ppg) has stepped out to knock home an efficient 7-of-12 (58.3 percent).
The Panthers' new point guard, Jamal Wright (9.3 ppg), ranks second in the league with 4.4 assists per game and is a capable marksman at 37.8 percent (14-of-37). Reserve forward Tarique Thompson (7.7 ppg) has knocked home 57.1 percent of his three-point chances as well.
High Point got off to a 3-1 start this season, with impressive home wins over UNC Greensboro and Navy. The Panthers also picked up a non-conference road win at Morgan State (62-61) on November 28.
Thursday night's game will stream live on The Big South Network (bigsouthsports.com), with Fabian Fuentes calling the action from Paul Porter Arena.