GAME NOTES: The shorthanded Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs will duke it out with the Austin Peay Governors in the Mayan Division championship game of the Cancun Challenge.
This will be the first time these programs meet on the basketball court in history.
It would be hard to tell Gardner-Webb was playing without two of its starters in its first round game versus Howard. The Runnin' Bulldogs held a 31-20 edge in the rebounding battle and held the Bison to just 18-of-45 shooting from the floor as they coasted to a 55-43 win. The win evened up the team's overall record at 3-3 as it builds a decent resume. The team's losses have even been impressive as it hung tough with North Carolina until the very end in its season opener and lost by single digits to Lipscomb and Iowa. The Big South Conference program also managed to defeat the Big East's DePaul Blue Demons prior to its trip south of the border.
The Governors had a much more difficult time advancing past their first-round matchup. Austin Peay trailed Western Carolina by 12 points at halftime before using a lights out shooting performance after the break to pick up a 72-71 victory. The victory ended a two-game losing slide which consisted of lopsided losses at Western Kentucky and DePaul. Coach Dave Loos needs to get his team to operate more efficiently as its high total of turnovers will cost it against better competition.
Coach Chris Holtmann had his team playing tremendously on the defensive end versus Howard. It forced Howard into 19 turnovers and did not allow a three- point basket. Gardner-Webb turned the 19 turnovers into 22 points, which was a huge factor considering the low-scoring outputs by both sides. Sophomore forward Donta Harper stood out with 16 points, nine rebounds, and six assists. Harper finished with two more assists than the entire Bison team. Kevin Hartley was efficient with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field with two makes from deep. Max Landis and Onzie Branch combined for 16 points in a total team effort.
Austin Peay has a lot to work on after escaping the first round with a one- point win. APSU was lucky to advance as it was outdone by three in the rebounding battle and Western Carolina made just 3-of-8 at the charity stripe. Travis Betran and Anthony Campbell were an excellent one-two scoring punch in the win. Betran scored a game-high 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field, which includes four makes from distance. Campbell was a close second with 21 points and Chris Freeman registered a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards.
The Governors have turned the ball over 43 times over their past two games. Gardner-Webb's excellent defense and slowed pace will make it impossible for APSU to get away with a high total of miscues. The Runnin' Bulldogs should be able to win the Mayan Division if their relentless approach on the defensive end of the floor continues.