Gardner-Webb Wins Big South Championship, Earns First NCAA Tournament Berth
RADFORD, VA. (AP) — DJ Laster scored a career-best 32 points and Gardner-Webb beat Radford 76-65 on Sunday to win the Big South Tournament championship and earn its first trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Laster had 30 of the Runnin’ Bulldogs’ first 44 points, including seven during a 13-5 second-half run that gave them a 46-33 lead. Gardner-Webb (23-11) twice saw its lead shrink to five, but each time answered with the next points to hold off the Highlanders.
David Efianayi added 15 points, all in the second half, and Jose Perez had 11 for Gardner-Webb.
Donald Hicks had 17 points, Ed Polite Jr. 15 and Carlik Jones 14 for Radford (22-11), which was trying to win its fourth conference title and seeking a repeat of last season, when it won its first NCAA Tournament game.
The Highlanders never fully recovered after going scoreless for 8:08 in the first half as the Bulldogs ran off 11 consecutive points and built a 20-7 lead. They closed to within five by halftime and twice down the stretch, but couldn’t stop the fourth-seeded Bulldogs, who earned their spot in the championship by knocking off top-seeded Campbell on Friday night.
Radford won the only regular-season meeting, 75-58, also at the Dedmon Center.
Gardner-Webb led 27-22 at halftime and was up 33-28 before Laster led a 13-5 run with seven points, including one of his two 3-pointers and a dunk.
Gardner-Webb: Laster’s huge day helped the Runnin’ Bulldogs overcome the absence of scoring leader David Efianayi (18.5 points per game) from the score sheet until he made a pair of free throws with 12:18 remaining. Efianayi followed shortly thereafter with a dunk and carried the scoring down the stretch.
Radford: The game may have been the last at home for Ed Polite Jr. a first-team All-Big South selection who fouled out with 31.6 seconds left. Polite had 15 points and five rebounds and is the only player in league history with 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 175 steals, 175 assists and 150 blocks.
Gardner-Webb: Will play in the NCAA Tournament.
Radford: Will hope for a postseason invitation.