By: Adam Barnes
Donta Harper is just a freshman, but on Saturday night the 6-foot-6 wing player from Winterville, N.C., came up big by sinking two game winning free-throws with 10.9 seconds left to push Gardner-Webb by Delaware State in a 57-56 victory.
Harper finished the game with 11 points, four rebounds, and two steals in 20 minutes of action off the bench.
“The kid is playing with a great deal of confidence right now,” said Runnin’ Bulldogs head coach Chris Holtmann. “The kid has a chance to be special. He’s progressively gotten better every single game.”
The Runnin’ Bulldogs utilized an 11-point run midway through the first half to set the tone early and establish a 31-24 lead heading into half time. However, the Hornets responded with their own 22-2 run to leave Gardner-Webb in familiar territory: down by seven points late in the game.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs were able to take advantage of three turnovers and two free-throw misses by Delaware State in the last two minutes to finish the game on an 8-0 run. The Hornets did not score in the last 2:50 of the game.
Said Holtmann, “I told my guys going into this game that the team that can survive the difficult stretches in this game is going to be the team that is going to win the game.”
With the loss, Delaware State (8-8) witnessed an eight-game win streak come to an end. The Hornets, which sit a half a game out of first place in the MEAC standings, were led by Marques Oliver with 18 points and seven rebounds.
Mike Byron recorded 10 points and 12 rebounds, Stefon Johnson tallied 12 points and six rebounds, and Tashan Newsome scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead Gardner-Webb (12-17). The Runnin’ Bulldogs used a powerful interior game to out-rebound Delaware State 39-21 throughout the contest.
With conference tournament seeding to be decided, Gardner-Webb (6-10 in Big South) will travel on Thursday to the Big South regular season champion UNC-Asheville (19-9,14-2 BSC). The Runnin’ Bulldogs will then close out the regular season on Saturday when they play host to Presbyterian.
Said Holtmann, “We can get a little confidence from this win, because I think this is as good of a win as we’ve had in a few weeks.”