You don’t get to see many first time NCAA Tournament berths these days. Well, it happened when Big South Conference Champion Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs knocked off the Radford Highlanders, 76-65 on Sunday.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs have been playing Division 1 basketball since 2002. They spent six seasons in the Atlantic Sun before joining the Big South in 2008. Now, they will represent the conference in their first NCAA Tournament appearance. All they have to do is wait until Selection Sunday to find out their first-round matchup.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs have three 20-win seasons on their resume. Former head coach Chris Holtmann led them to a 21-13 record in 2013. Months later, he was the head coach of the Butler Bulldogs. Now, Holtmann is the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, hoping to secure an at-large bid if they can’t win the Big Ten title.
Head Coach Tim Craft (6 Years) 111-89 record
His successor is Tim Craft. The first five seasons were a work in progress for Craft. The Runnin’ Bulldogs had 4 winning seasons during the first 5 years. However, they only amassed one 20-win season. The (20-15) record came in 2014-15. Craft also led the Runnin’ Bulldogs to a (14-18) record last season. Therefore, a run into the Big South Championship game was a great feat. Winning the game and earning the automatic bid is an outstanding achievement.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs earned a fourth place finish in the Big South with a (23-11, 11-6) record. They didn’t take the easy way to win the tournament title over four days. First, they defeated No. 5 High Point Panthers. The Runnin’ Bulldogs upset No. 1 Campbell Fighting Camels 79-74 in the semifinals. Then they defeated the No. 2 Highlanders on the road. Meaning, the Runnin’ Bulldogs ran through the top of the league, proving they are the best team the Big South has to offer.
Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs Profile
The Runnin’ Bulldogs didn’t start the season very well. They were (2-5) at one point. However, a conference opening win over South Carolina Upstate interrupted their rough non conference schedule. Once they got back to playing well, the Runnin’ Bulldogs defeated a pair of ACC teams in late December. First, they defeated the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. They followed that win with another victory over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. As a result, the Bulldogs were (2-1) against ACC teams. The lone defeat came against the Virginia Tech Hokies.
If you only happened to catch Sunday’s victory over the Highlanders, you might be inclined to believe D.J. Laster is unstoppable. Laster scored 32 points on 14 of 17 shooting. He led the Highlanders with two 3-pointers. The Bulldogs hit five all game.
However, senior guard David Efianayi leads the team with 18.3 points per game. He plays and all around game that doesn’t rely on scoring, but the Bulldogs are hard to contend with when Efianayi is leading the way. He is shooting 41 percent from 3-point range this season. Although Laster is at 45 percent from beyond the arc, Efianayi is capable of scorching the nets on any given night.
Freshman Jose Perez brings a lot of game to the table for the Runnin’ Bulldogs. He is pouring in 15 points per game, while leading the team with 5.8 rebounds per game. Don’t be surprised if Perez tries to take over a game in March Madness. He has that much ability.
Overall, the Runnin’ Bulldogs are scoring 78 points per game. They are giving up 70.5 points per game. They are the No. 12 3-point shooting team in the country at 39 percent. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs guard the 3-point shot fairly well at 32.7 percent. However, they only attempt 20 3-point shots per game. In contrast, opponents average 27 3-point shots per game.
Currently, the Runnin’ Bulldogs are projected to earn No. 16 seed. They are capable of making a team play a full 40 minutes. However, they lack any real size in the front court. Therefore, playing a No. 1 seed with a dynamic front court would cause major problems.
NCAA Tournament Recent History
The Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs are playing in their first March Madness tournament.