Introducing Cinderella: Gardner-Webb earns the autobid in the Big South

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Gardner-Webb is heading to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history as they went on the road and knocked off Radford for a 76-65 victory. The Bulldogs pulled off one of the toughest feats in college hoops by winning back-to-back road games as the underdog during the Big South conference tournament.

Knocking off the nation’s leading scorer in Chris Clemons and Campbell in the previous round on Friday night, Gardner-Webb followed that up with a convincing win over Radford on Sunday afternoon. DJ Laster got rolling early for the Bulldogs against the Highlanders as he scored 30 of the team’s first 44 points to finish with a career-high 32 points.

CONFERENCE: Big South

COACH: Tim Craft

RECORD: 23-11, 10-6 in the Big South

RATINGS:

  • KENPOM: 183
  • NET: 185

PROJECTED SEED: Gardner-Webb likely projects as a No. 16 seed.

NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: Senior guard David Efianayi is the team’s leading scorer as he’s putting up 18.5 points per game while shooting a blistering 41 percent from three-point range on the season. While Efianayi is the team’s leader, he has other weapons to turn to on offense. Freshman Jose Perez (15.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.0 apg) has emerged as a capable all-around player while senior forward DJ Laster (13.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg) showed how dangerous he can be in the Big South title game. Sophomore Nate Johnson (10.0 ppg) is the team’s fourth double-figure scorer. All four of those players also shoot at least 37 percent, or better, from three-point range.

BIG WINS, BAD LOSSES: Gardner-Webb knocked off two ACC opponents during the regular season with road wins at Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. The Bulldogs also had Q1 losses to Furman, VCU and Virginia Tech during the regular season. Losses to Eastern Illinois and Arkansas state represented the only two Q4 losses of the season for Gardner-Webb. A shaky

STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Three-point shooting could be the key for Gardner-Webb pulling off a UMBC-like upset of a major powerhouse. Shooting 37.9 percent from three-point range as a team on the season, the Bulldogs are 32nd in the country from distance. Gardner-Webb also has options from a shooting perspective with four players who canned at least 35 three-pointers on the season.

HOW DO I KNOW YOU?: Gardner-Webb doesn’t have a lot of relevant men’s basketball history but the school did help produce current Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann. A former assistant (2002-2008) who later returned as head coach for three seasons (2010-11 through 2012-13), Holtmann left the program to become an assistant, and eventual head coach, at Butler.

FINAL THOUGHT: UMBC set the recipe for beating a No. 1 seed last season by making a lot of perimeter shots and blitzing an ice-cold Virginia team early. While Gardner-Webb is unlikely to win as a potential No. 15 or No. 16 seed, the potent perimeter shooting they bring to the table makes them an intriguing deep upset candidate — depending on opponent.