Gardner-Webb (3-4) has dropped four straight games leading up to their arrival at Cameron Indoor Stadium to face Duke (7-1). The Runnin’ Bulldogs have been plagued by turnovers as they average 22 per game. An inability to take care of the basketball does not bode well for a team playing against the Blue Devils. Duke has forced their opponents to turnover the ball an average of 13.8 times per game this season, which equates to a +2.88 turnover margin for the Blue Devils.
Duke and Gardner-Webb have one common opponent this season the University of Charlotte. On November 17, Duke defeated Charlotte 101 – 59, while on December 12, Charlotte defeated Gardner-Webb 95 - 66.
Gardner-Webb’s leading scorer is Grayson Flittner (6’0” 200) at 12.3 points per game. Flittner is a dangerous 3-point shooter. While he is averaging only 37.3 percent from behind the arc, the senior tied a Dean E. Smith Center record with nine made 3-pointers earlier this season, while scoring 32 points, during a 93 – 72 loss to the Tar Heels. Duke does not desire for Flittner to tie any Cameron Indoor Stadium records in this game.
Auryn MacMillan (6’8” 235), another senior, is the Runnin’ Bulldogs center and averages 9.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. MacMillan had a season high 14 rebounds against UNC-Asheville on December 4th.
At forward, sophomore Joshua Henley (6’3” 215) averages double-digit rebounds with 10.3 per game. It would be easy to dismiss Henley as too short to make a difference on the glass against the tall Blue Devils; however, he pulled down 10 rebounds in the game against Carolina’s big and talented frontcourt.
A pair of six foot guards complete Gardner-Webb’s starting lineup. Senior C.J. Hailey averages 9.3 points per game but he also turns the ball over an average of 2.7 times per contest. Freshman Brian McNair averages 5.8 points and 3 turnovers per game.
Gardner-Webb plays a deep rotation with eleven players averaging double digit minutes. Stefon Johnson (6’6” 215) and Jonathan Moore (6’4” 190) average 17 and 13.5 minutes per game respectively, off the bench. Moore is the team’s fourth leading scorer at 7.8 points per game. Senior Anton Silver (6’3 175) averages 5.8 points per game in just 10 minutes of playing time.
The keys to the game will be:
1. Duke must turn up the defensive heat on Gardner-Webb. As previously stated, the Runnin’ Bulldogs are turnover prone and Duke must facilitate Gardner-Webb’s generosity by pressing the ball and converting turnovers into points. While this edition of the Blue Devils does not pressure the ball to the degree past Blue Devil squads have, Gardner-Webb is a team Duke should pressure hard and often.
2. In the half court, the Blue Devils should look to pound the ball into the post. Duke has a significant size and strength advantage and they need to exploit that advantage. This is a contest in which Duke’s big guys should dominate the Runnin’ Bulldogs.
3. Finally, Duke must avoid overconfidence. Gardner-Webb has neither the size nor talent to beat the Blue Devils. However, this game is the type of game that sets up the opponent to shock the World, such as when Gardner-Webb defeated the Kentucky Wildcats in former coach Billy Gillispie’s second game in Lexington.
Gardner-Webb will bring a deep and experienced team into Cameron Indoor Stadium and I’m confident they will play with grit and determination. However, in the end, the Blue Devils are a much superior team and will send the Runnin’ Bulldogs back to Boiling Springs with a fifth straight loss.