Gardner-Webb burst onto the scene with a stunning upset earlier this month.
Things haven’t gone quite as well for the Runnin’ Bulldogs since, but they’ll get another chance to beat a ranked team when they travel to No. 24 Clemson on Saturday.
Gardner-Webb’s 84-68 road win over then-No. 20 Kentucky on Nov. 7 earned the small North Carolina school the national spotlight, but since then, the Bulldogs (4-3) only have beaten Division II North Greenville and 1-4 Radford while going 0-3 against major conference teams.
They averaged just 64.3 points in those three defeats, compared to 92.0 in the last three wins. Two of the losses came to Connecticut, including an 89-72 defeat in Hartford on Tuesday.
Gardner-Webb knocking off Clemson wouldn’t be as shocking as the defeat of Kentucky, but the Tigers (4-0) are off to another strong start after opening 11-0 in 2005-06 and 17-0 last season. Clemson also has won 17 straight November games and 16 consecutive non-conference home games.
Both of those streaks were at stake when the Tigers hosted Presbyterian on Wednesday, and their lead dwindled to three points with 7:26 to play against a winless team in its first Division I season. But Clemson closed the game with an 18-4 run to win 74-57.
“We’re going to have to play much better than that if we want to consider us a good team,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said.
The Tigers returned four of five starters from a team that won a school record-tying 25 games and advanced to the NIT championship game last season. Junior K.C. Rivers led that Clemson squad with 14.0 points per game, and is averaging a team-high 15.5 this season after scoring 11 of his 18 points in the second half against Presbyterian.
“This is a veteran ballclub,” Rivers said. “This is the team with our experience, our leadership and our veteran players, we got to come together.”
Gardner-Webb is a bit younger, with only one senior on the roster and two sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup. Sophomore Grayson Flittner had 22 points against Kentucky, and leads the Bulldogs with 17.1 per game. Thomas Sanders, the lone senior, averages 16.1 points and 10.9 rebounds.
But Gardner-Webb, with its four top scorers 6-foot-5 or shorter, has been outrebounded in each of its losses, including by a 59-32 margin Tuesday against UConn.
The Bulldogs also have struggled with 3-point shooting. They were 8-of-17 from beyond the arc against Kentucky, but have attempted more 3-point shots and hit a lower percentage in each game since.
They were 14-of-37 on 3s in a 69-55 loss to Oklahoma on Nov. 16, and hoisted 34 against UConn on Tuesday, hitting 11. Opponents are shooting just 30.7 percent from beyond the arc against Clemson.
Despite being located less than 100 miles from each other, Gardner-Webb and Clemson have played just twice, with the Tigers winning 71-61 in December 2002 and 86-55 in November 2003.