COLUMBIA, SC (WBTV) - It has been a surreal week for Gardner-Webb after winning the Big South Conference tournament on March 10th to punch their ticket to their first ever NCAA Tournament. But it all became real for this program as they hit the court at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, SC for practice day on Thursday.
“It’s like a dream come true,” said Gardner-Webb freshman forward Jose Perez.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs will face Virginia on Friday at 3:10 p.m.
It’s the first time for this program but for some like senior guard and leading scorer David Efianayi, the success of the entire season is a first for him.
“Growing up, I never won a championship,” said Efianayi. “So the Big South Championship was my first and then coming here to March Madness is my first so I’m just trying to enjoy everything. I’m just so excited.”
Gardner-Webb enters the game as a number 16 seed but is playing like a team with supreme confidence and with good reason. They have won 8 of their last 9 games.
They take on one of the best teams in the ACC in Virginia as the Cavaliers are also the #1 seed in the South region, but the Runnin’ Bulldogs have already beaten two ACC programs this season in Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Those two victories really put this team in a different mindset heading into this big match up.
“It was a statement,” said sophomore guard Jaheam Cornwall. “Gardner-Webb is a school on the rise. We’re not a team to be slept on.”
“It definitely gives us confidence to know it can be done again,” said Efianayi.
But to put the upset, this team has to play its game and offensively, that means sharing the ball.
“Whoever is hot, we have to continue to find them,” said Efianayi.
In the Big South Championship game, that player was DJ Laster. With Efianayi struggling to score, Laster came up with a career high 32 points to lead the team to 76-65 win over Radford on the road at Radford.
“We’ve been playing good as a team lately,” said Laster. “Everyone is playing with heart. Everyone loves the opportunity we have in front of us right now to play a number one seed. It just feels good to be here.”