ATLANTA (AP) — Gardner-Webb went right at Georgia Tech Monday night, and the Runnin’ Bulldogs may have come away from their 79-69 upset win over the Yellow Jackets a little surprised after DJ Laster scored 20 of his career high-tying 25 points before intermission.
When the Bulldogs closed the first half on a 12-2 run, Laster scored five layups as Gardner-Webb (8-5) attacked Tech (5-4) with no hesitation on the way to a sixth straight win.
Gardner-Webb got more out of their aggressive pick-and-roll offense they might have expected given that Tech entered the game ranked No. 12 nationally in scoring defense (58.8 points per game) and fifth in field goal defense (36.2 percent).
Gardner-Webb shot 52.5 percent, and the visitors outscored the bigger Yellow Jackets 48-36 in the paint overall, and 28-12 on the way to a 45-38 halftime lead in McCamish Pavilion.
“We thought they were going to be really, really hard to score on,” said Gardner-Webb head coach Tim Craft. “We were able for whatever reason to get in the paint on penetration, and then be able to dump it off to our big guy, Laster. Then, he was able to get a bunch of layups.”
Laster, a 6-foot-6 senior forward, also had nine rebounds while David Efianayi and David Perez scored 12 points each.
James Banks III scored a career-high 22 points for Georgia Tech while grabbing 12 rebounds, but the long-armed 6-9 center was frequently out of position defensively.
“I’ve got to be better. We cleaned some stuff up in the second half, but I’ve got to be able to make those decisions on the fly in the first half.” he said. “I came out a little lackadaisically defensively in the first half, and that really hurt us in the whole game.”
Gardner-Webb carried the action for much of the first half with the exception of a stretch where Curtis Haywood II made four 3-point shots in a 14-2 scoring run for Tech. The Jackets took their biggest lead at 31-27 on his long ball with 5:54 to go before intermission.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs rallied back to take a seven-point halftime lead with Laster scoring 10 of their final 12 points.
After falling behind by 13 points in the second half, Georgia Tech pulled within seven points a couple times, but no closer as the Jackets missed all 11 of their 3-point shots following intermission.
Jose Alvarado scored 19 for Tech but made just 2 of 9 from beyond the arc, and Haywood didn’t score in the second half.
Gardner-Webb point guard Jose Perez scored 12 points and had a game-high eight assists, as the Bulldogs went back to Boiling Springs, N.C., happy.
“It’s so hard to be able to come in and play a team like Georgia Tech in the ACC and come through with a win,” Craft said. “I thought it was a really complete game by our team.”
Laster closed each half with a score, and the Bulldogs stunned Tech just before halftime. After Efianayi made a pair of free throws with four seconds remaining, Gardner-Webb pressured Tech, and Nate Johnson stole the inbounds pass by Banks, and passed to Efianayi, who passed to Laster for a layup right before the buzzer. The last score of the game came on Laster’s alley-oop dunk off a pass from Nate Johnson.
Gardner-Webb: The Runnin’ Bulldogs came in shooting 39.3 percent from 3-point range and bettered that by making six of 15 3-pointers (40 percent). Tech was ranked No. 5 nationally in 3-point defense (25.2 percent).
Georgia Tech: The Jackets looked out of sorts defensively while playing just their second game in 16 days and first in eight.
Gardner-Webb: The Runnin’ Bulldogs will play host to Brevard Wednesday afternoon.
Georgia Tech: The Jackets will play back-to-back SEC opponents Wednesday night at Arkansas and Saturday at home against Georgia.