Gardner-Webb came into Monday's nights non-conference finale against Big Ten member Purdue with an 7-5 mark and coming off a rather disappoint loss at Jacksonville last week. The Bulldogs only had one Division I victory to their name since beating Charleston and Clemson back-to-back in mid-November. Despite a cake walk of a schedule in December the Bulldogs came prepared to play against the Boilermakrers.
Tim Craft's squad scored their second Power 5 win of the year in a 89-84 upset in West Lafayette. Jerome Hill, an undersized big, had yet another huge night for the Bulldogs posting 31 points and 9 rebounds. Veteran point guard Tyler Strange also had another solid outing with his first double-double since the Clemson win with 18 points and 10 assists.
While we could touch on the ins and outs of tonights impressive win and even more impressive second half, it's important to note the gauntlet the Bulldogs went through this non-conference season as they turn the page to Big South play. Yes, half of GWU's win came against non-Division I competition but the two Power 5 wins speak for themselves and the Bulldogs losses right now are Arizona, Old Dominion, Seton Hall, LSU, and the aforementioned bad loss at Jacksonville.
The Bulldogs are the Big South favorites, right behind Coastal Carolina, heading into their conference opener against Presbyterian on New Years Eve. Jerome Hill has been playing like a man possessed and he is forming a really solid frontcourt combo with Tyrell Nelson. While the Bulldogs do likely have the best frontcourt in the conference it's Tyler Strange who will set them apart. Simply put, Strange is the most solid, traditional point guard in the conference who will keep GWU in any game just because of the way he takes care of the basketball. Adonis Burbage hasn't been the presence that was expected this season but Jarvis Davis has really stepped up next to Strange in the backcourt.
Gardner-Webb will open the Big South season with two road contests at Presbyterian and UNC Asheville. The Bulldogs and the conference will get a chance to showcase themselves in a great Thursday night match on ESPNU on January 8 against Radford.