Gardner-Webb Men's Basketball Gets Win For Coach Tim Craft

Gardner-Webb Coach Tim Craft

Gardner-Webb Gives Coach Tim Craft His First Win

Every victory in college basketball is sweet.  Your first victory is even sweeter.

Texas A&M transfer Naji Hibbert filled the basket for a career-high 20 points, joining three other Gardner-Webb players in double digits in an 87-78 win Saturday night. The victory was the first as a head coach for Gardner-Webb coach Tim Craft. 

“It was special. My family was here, and it was pretty cool,” said Craft. “Our players were all talking about, ‘Hey, congrats, Coach, you know, first win’, and we had a lot of fun in the locker room right after. That made me feel good, that they were excited for me.”

The Runnin’ Bulldogs (1-2) withstood a hot start from the visiting Jacksonville Dolphins (1-2) to take a 22-21 lead just before the second media timeout in the first half, then enjoyed a quick 6-0 run to extend the lead. The teams traded free throws for much of the remaining time in the half, with Gardner-Webb taking a 41-36 lead to the locker room at the half.

Gardner-Webb quickly shook off their 0-for-4 three-point shooting from the first half in the second twenty minutes, as Tyler Strange drained two shots from distance in the first two-and-a-half minutes of the stanza. Hibbert then drilled a three of his own as part of his scoring nine straight points for his team, extending the Gardner-Webb lead to 58-48 with 14:30 remaining in the game. 

“It was hard for us to get the matchup or the certain play that we wanted. We were really just playing into our offense, and our guys helped get him shots. Late in the clock, he’s a guy that can create his own shot,” said Craft of Hibbert. “And then he hit some catch-and-shoot threes from our guys just finding him.  It was hard in this game, because of the way they play, to say ‘okay, I wanna go there, I wanna get Naji the ball here, I wanna get (forward) Jerome (Hill) the ball in the block’. It was hard to do that the way they were mixing (defenses), but it just kinda worked out for us.”

Jacksonville never seemed to recover from that run, as they never led in the second half of the game. A Hibbert three-pointer extended the lead to twelve with 12:59 remaining, leading Dolphin coach Cliff Warren to call for a timeout. A quick Jacksonville run capped by a Sam Hunt layup cut the lead to 64-58 with 10:45 to go in the game. Jacksonville never again got closer than that six-point margin, however. 

The Runnin’ Bulldogs came into the game off a 75-64 loss at Furman on Tuesday, in which they shot just 40.7 percent (24-for-59) and shot just 19 free throws. Craft spoke of his team’s better effort, saying, “Total different team than what we saw at Furman on Tuesday night. We talked about at Furman we didn’t bring our will, our will to defend and get stops. We talked about that all week, and we certainly brought that today and did a much better job.”  Gardner-Webb shot 49.1 percent (28-for-57) against Jacksonville, getting to the free throw line almost twice as much as they did against the Paladins earlier in the week. Gardner-Webb hit 26 of their 36 free throws (72.2 percent) against the Dolphins.

Both teams had four players score in double figures. South Carolina transfer R.J. Slawson led the Dolphins with 19 points in just 18 minutes of play, fouling out with 3:42 remaining in the contest. Starting guard Jarvis Haywood, playing near his hometown of Charlotte, added 17 points, while forward Vince Martin and guard Keith McDougald respectively added 11 and 10 points.

Hibbert led his club and all scorers with 20 points. Mount St. Mary’s transfer Josh Castellanos scored 15 points, while forward Jerome Hill added 13 points and eight rebounds. Freshman forward Tyrell Nelson scored 12 points in 18 minutes off the bench, knocking down four-of-six free throws and collecting five rebounds.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs outrebounded Jacksonville 39-29, with a 15-11 offensive rebounding edge. Starting Gardner-Webb guards Castellanos and Strange turned the ball over just three times in the game. Jacksonville was held to just 2-for-10 shooting from behind the three-point line, while Gardner-Webb hit 5-of-7 attempts in the second half after being blanked in the first period.

Gardner-Webb returns to action Tuesday night at Paul Porter Arena against visiting Allen (SC) University. Jacksonville will travel to Winston-Salem to face off against Wake Forest in the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum at 7:00 Monday night.