Conference mate Charleston Southern may have given the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs a little confidence coming into Saturday's game against LSU. Charleston Southern knocked off SEC foe Ole Miss Friday night and Gardner-Webb definitely gave the Bayou Bengals all they could handle in the debut for both teams on Saturday.
My view on Gardner-Webb this season is pretty simple as long as the Bulldogs have Tyler Strange and Jerome Hill together on the court then they can compete in any basketball. That was certainly true Saturday afternoon in Baton Rouge. The biggest questions mark coming into this season was not only who could replace the scoring production of departures Naji Hibbert and Donta Harper but who could keep GWU as the tough defensive team Tim Craft instilled last year.
The other storyline coming into this one was the ironic homecoming of sorts that LSU started former Big South sharpshooter Kyle Hornsby at guard. Hornsby previously stared at UNC Asheville before sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules.
As stated Gardner-Webb came to compete and surged to a slight halftime lead of 43-42. Gardner-Webb could just not compete on the boards though being out-rebounded 47-28 on the afternoon and couldn't slow down the LSU starters. Elbert Robinson III did not score for the Tigers but the rest of the four starters combined for nearly 83% of LSU's scoring production in an eventual 93-82 win. Hornsby registered 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists in his debut for the purple and gold.
So what are the takeaways for these now new look Bulldogs? Gardner-Webb is going to have to play smaller sets this year and only played an eight man rotation today. Part of that smaller lineup is senior Jarvis Davis who played sparingly in the past but started today scoring an inefficient 11 points while adding 4 rebounds and 3 steals. Central Connecticut State transfer Adonis Burbage, who is expected to be a key player, did not register a point in a 0-for-5 shooting performance.
Tyler Strange, Jerome Hill, and Tyrell Nelson did their thing but can some of these other guys step up for a Gardner-Webb team that frankly doesn't appear to be as deep or defensively imposing this year. Strange had 14 points while adding 7 helpers on the day. Most of those assists were to Hill who finished with 25 points, 5 boards, and 4 assists of his own. Nelson went home with 16 points and 5 rebounds.
The most startlingly stat for GWU beyond the rebounding margin was the fact the Bulldogs only got to the free throw line five times today. LSU was 13-for-14 from the charity stripe.
It's still early and we'll get a better look at how Gardner-Webb is going to shape up this season when they visit Charleston on Monday. The Cougars crushed a Stephen Croone-less Furman team 75-40 on Friday night