BOILING SPRINGS – Gardner-Webb hosts the Big South’s hottest team on Friday night, as first-place Radford rolls into Paul Porter Arena at 7:00 pm riding a six-game win streak.
Gardner-Webb (8-9, 3-1 Big South) sits one game back of the Highlanders (11-6, 4-0 Big South) in second place in the current league standings and has won five of its last six overall.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs got back on track Tuesday night, riding a strong defensive effort and solid guard play for a 62-45 win over High Point. That win moved Gardner-Webb to 6-0 this season in Paul Porter Arena, and extended its home win streak to eight games – which dates back to last February.
The backcourt duo of David Efianayi (17.4 ppg) and Liam O’Reilly (14.2 ppg) has powered Gardner-Webb for much of the season, particularly in Big South Conference action. Each has bumped their respective scoring averages through four league games, with O’Reilly (19.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.0 apg) off to a very hot start.
Efianayi is averaging 18.5 points per game against four Big South opponents, including a pair of outings with at least 20 points. His 31-point effort last week at Campbell keyed a comeback win, and his 23 points on Tuesday night led all scorers in the win over High Point.
Forward DJ Laster has been a pleasant surprise inside this season, stepping in for graduated All-Big South standout Tyrell Nelson. Laster is averaging 13.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game this season, and has shown range beyond the three-point arc.
Radford held off a feisty Charleston Southern squad for another league road win on Tuesday and have risen to a very strong No. 81 in the latest RPI. The Highlanders are led by Player of the Year candidate Ed Polite, Jr., a versatile 6-foot-5 forward who is averaging a healthy 21.3 points and 10.8 rebounds per game in Big South games this season.
Polite averaged 16.5 points and 12.0 rebounds in two games against Gardner-Webb last season and has been one of the league’s top rebounders since arriving on Radford’s campus.
The Highlanders have also gotten stellar play from early Freshman of the Year favorite Carlik Jones at guard and physical big man Randy Phillips. Jones is averaging 13.5 ppg in league play and Phillips has posted 10.3 points and 5.5 boards against four Big South foes.
Sharpshooter Caleb Tanner made four treys against Gardner-Webb last season in Radford, Va., and is shooting a sizzling 55.6 percent from deep in league play (42.3 percent overall).
Head coach Mike Jones’ team has plenty of depth as well, with nine men averaging at least 14.0 minutes per game so far.
Gardner-Webb won both meetings with Radford last season by identical 70-59 scores, shooting 49 percent combined in those contests. GWU holds a slight, 10-8 edge in the all-time series, which began in 2007.
Neither school has enjoyed a tremendous home court advantage, with GWU sporting a 4-5 record since 2007 in Paul Porter Arena against the Highlanders. The Runnin’ Bulldogs have won three in a row in the series on their home court, including last February’s 70-59 victory.
Radford’s last win in Boiling Springs was a thriller, with R.J. Price draining a 40-footer at the buzzer to lift the Highlanders to a 52-51 win on January 19, 2013.
Friday night’s game will stream live on ESPN3 (WatchESPN) and the ESPN app, with legendary play-by-play man Mike Hogewood and color analyst Jeff Jackson on the call.