Runnin' Bulldogs Top First-Place UNC Asheville, 81-76, Thursday Night In Big South Conference Tilt

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Tim Cowie Photo |
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BOILING SPRINGS – Tyrell Nelson recorded his 24th career double-double, scoring 19 points to go with 13 rebounds on Senior Night to help Gardner-Webb to an 81-76 win over UNC Asheville.

The Runnin' Bulldogs (17-13, 10-7 Big South) reached the 10-win mark in league play for the fifth season in a row and will finish above .500 overall for the fifth-straight campaign – its longest stretch since 1978-1983.

Laquincy Rideau added 15 points, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals for Gardner-Webb, flirting with a double-double himself. D.J. Laster came off the bench with 13 points – nine in the second half – and David Efianayi added 12 on a balanced offensive night.

Trailing 39-33 at the break – and 41-35 after a Kevin Vannatta jumper with 18:53 to play, Gardner-Webb went on a 6-0 run to take its first lead since the game's early going. After Ahmad Thomas' layup with 16:30 put Asheville back on top by one, the Runnin' Bulldogs got a triple from Jamaal Robateau on the ensuing possession to take the lead for good.

The lead would stretch to 62-52 on a Rideau follow shot with 9:35 left – capping a 9-3 run that spanned nearly three minutes. Asheville cut the lead down to five, but Laster shook free for a dunk, then nailed a three-pointer on the next possession to put the Runnin' Bulldogs up 69-59 with 6:49 to play.

Nelson and Rideau made enough plays down the stretch to keep Gardner-Webb in front and Liam O'Reilly sank a pair of free throws with 49.8 seconds left to extend the lead to 78-72 after the visiting Bulldogs pulled close in the final minute.

Asheville trailed 79-76 with 11.6 seconds left and forced a pair of GWU timeouts on an inbounds chance, but the Runnin' Bulldogs were able to get the ball to Laster – who was fouled and made two clutch free throws with 9.9 seconds left to effectively seal the win.

David Robertson's long three with two seconds left was off the mark and Laster secured the rebound – and the win.

Gardner-Webb came alive offensively in the second half, shooting a sizzling 55.2 percent (16-of-29) after making just 38.7 percent in the opening half. GWU made 6-of-11 from long range and dominated the glass all evening in front of an active home crowd.

The Runnin' Bulldogs owned a 47-32 edge on the glass, including 15 offensive caroms – which led to a significant 20-10 edge in second-chance scoring. Gardner-Webb also owned a 20-11 edge in points off of turnovers, taking advantage in a game that saw Asheville only cough the ball up 11 times.

Asheville shot 42.4 percent in the decisive second half, down from 51.7 percent in the opening 20 minutes. The Bulldogs made just 3-of-16 from long range – much different than the 16 treys made in a 90-85 overtime win at home vs. Gardner-Webb on New Year's Eve.

Thomas led all scorers with 25 points (12-of-16) and finished with five boards and three steals in 31 minutes. Vannatta added 15 points, Will Weeks had 13 and MaCio Teague had 11 for Asheville.

Gardner-Webb faces a very difficult road test next, closing out the regular season at High Point on Saturday afternoon at 4:00 pm. The game will stream live on The Big South Network (