Runnin' Bulldogs fall short at Illinois
After the first half, it appeared that Illinois forward Tyler Griffey was not going to be productive.
Looking at his stat line, he had no points, no rebounds, no nothing.
But, with 4.4 seconds left in the game, Griffey made one of his 13 attempts in the second half count as he drained a 3-point basket on a feed from Brandon Paul to lift the Illini to a 63-62 win over Gardner-Webb Sunday at Assembly Hall.
"I give credit to Griffey," said GWU head coach Chris Holtmann to the AP following the game. "We had two guys on Paul, I believe it was, and Griffey stepped up and did what upperclassmen do."
Griffey's basket was an answer to a 3-pointer from Tashan Newsome that gave the Runnin' Bulldogs (4-4) a lead with just 14 seconds left on the clock.
It was the third lead change in the final minute of the game — which featured 12 lead changes and eight ties total.
Kevin Hartley drilled a trey from the left wing with 54.6 seconds left to put Gardner-Webb on top 59-58 – its first lead since the 8:20 mark – but Paul responded after a 30-second timeout with a runner from the right side with just 39 seconds left to put the Illini (7-0) back on top.
"I want to credit Gardner-Webb for how hard they played," said Illinois head coach John Groce, in his postgame press conference. "I thought they executed very well and, I thought, they executed better than we did for a bulk of the game."
Newsome hit his go-ahead basket with just four seconds left on the shot clock. Illinois called timeout with 12 seconds left and got the ball to Paul – the team’s leading scorer at 19.7 ppg – who found Griffey open after the forward slipped a screen and came open past the top of the key.
Both teams struggled offensively in the first half with just two points scored in the first five minutes of the game. From there, GWU went on a 21-9 run to take a 21-13 lead with just under five minutes left in the first half.
But, Illinois came back with a 10-0 run to lead by 2 with 2 minutes, 33 seconds left in the half, until Onzie Branch gave the Runnin' Bulldogs the lead back with a jumper.
Paul closed out the half with a pair of free-throws that put Illinois up 24-23 at the break.
Max Landis connected on a short jumper and a 3-pointer to put the Runnin' Bulldogs up 28-27 to start the second half but Paul responded with a 3-point basket of his own to give the Illini the lead back.
Kevin Hartley and Joseph Bertrand traded baskets that tied the game with over 17 minutes left.
Then, Donta Harper hit a 3-pointer that put GWU up for the next 10 minutes of the game. Landis kept the Runnin' Bulldogs up by five until Illinois went on its biggest run of the game — a 13-2 spurt — to go up six with 6:34 left.
Gardner-Webb came back with a 3-pointer from Hartley and a pair of free-throws each from Newsome and Harper. After Illinois built up a 4-point lead, Harper closed the gap with two more free throws as both teams went scoreless over the next two minutes until Hartley hit a 3 with just under a minute remaining.
"We certainly cannot take anything away from Gardner-Webb because they did some very good things," Groce said.
Harper put together his third consecutive game with 16 points — which lead GWU — as Newsome added 11 and Landis had 10. The Runnin' Bulldogs shot 50 percent from the field in the second half after shooting just 33 percent in the first.
Illinois picked up 13 points each from Griffey, D.J. Richardson, Paul and Bertrand. As a team, they shot 54 percent from the field in the second half after just 33 percent in the first.
For Holtmann and Groce, it was a reunion of sorts as they were both teammates at Taylor University and Holtmann served as an assistant to Groce at Ohio before coming to Gardner-Webb.
"I'm really proud of Chris because I think he has done a great job there," Groce said.
The Runnin' Bulldogs will take break from basketball for the next seven days after playing four games in 10 days. GWU will take on Virginia-Wise at 7 p.m. Dec. 3.
Gardner-Webb, Illinois sports information and The AP contributed to this report