Gardner-Webb advances to Big South championship game with 89-81 overtime win over Radford

The Runnin' Bulldogs pull out an overtime win despite not leading at any point during regulation.
The Runnin' Bulldogs pull out an overtime win despite not leading at any point during regulation.(WBTV)
Published: Mar. 4, 2023 at 10:19 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It took an extra five minutes, but Gardner-Webb will play for an NCAA Tournament bid on Sunday after an 89-81 win over Radford in the Hercules Tires Big South Conference women’s basketball semifinals.

It was the 20th win in a row for Gardner-Webb (28-4), who will take on the winner of No. 2 High Point/No. 3 Campbell on Sunday night at 6:00 in Bojangles Coliseum (The Biscuit).

The game will air live nationally on ESPNU and the radio call will air live on 730 AM The Game in the Charlotte area.Big South Player of the Year Jhessyka Williams scored 22 of her season-high 30 points in the second half and overtime and Lauren Bevis finished with 29 points to pace Gardner-Webb.

Williams pulled within four points of reaching 2,000 for her career, which would put her in elite company in program history.

Gardner-Webb trailed by as many as 13 points in the second quarter, but closed on a 9-0 run to trail just 44-40 at the break. A bucket by Williams early in the third quarter extended that lead to 11-0 and trimmed the lead to 44-42 – but the Highlanders extended the lead back to 10 points over the next three minutes and led 67-59 when the quarter ended.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs turned their focus to the defensive end to begin a rally, slowly chipping away at Radford’s advantage. After the Highlanders took a 71-64 lead with 6:45 left on a pair of free throws, Williams scored five in a row to cut the lead to 71-69 with 2:56 to play. Radford caught a break moments later, banking in a three to extend the lead back to five.

Williams countered with a drive for a layup and a foul, making the free throw with 2:09 to play to cut the lead to 74-72.Gardner-Webb kept at it on the defensive end and got a key stop with 95 seconds left and Williams converted her own miss into a second chance bucket with 1:18 to go to tie the game.

Radford turned the basketball over on its next possession, but Gardner-Webb returned the favor with 18.9 seconds left in regulation. The Highlanders missed a shot with 2.2 seconds left and Williams secured the rebound to force overtime.

Alasia Smith scored the first two points on an easy layup off the tip in the extra period and Gardner-Webb took an 80-74 lead on back-to-back buckets from Layken Cox and Williams.

Radford worked the lead down to 83-81 on a follow shot with 1:29 left, but Cox made two free throws on the next possession and the Highlanders were out of gas.

Bevis finished the game with four-straight free throws for the final margin.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs finished at a crisp 50.0 percent from the floor (30-of-6) and made 24-of-29 free throws in the win. GWU also forced 24 Radford turnovers and converted those mistakes directly into 28 points – a 15-point advantage in that category.

In addition to Williams and Bevis, Gardner-Webb got 12 points from Smith and 10 from Cox.Radford shot lights out early, but cooled significantly in the game’s late moments with Gardner-Webb’s defensive intensity ramped up. The Highlanders shot just 2-of-9 in the fourth quarter and made just 2-of-8 in overtime to finish at 45.5 percent for the game (25-of-55).

Radford made 22-of-24 free throws (91.7 percent) and got 26 points from guard Carmen Williams. Ashlyn Traylor added 18 points.