WKYT | Lexington, Kentucky | Sports

Gardner-Webb celebrates with pep rally

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. (AP) - The students filed into
Gardner-Webb's tiny arena wearing red shirts, some with their faces
painted, many carrying signs.
Maybe they were skipping class on Thursday afternoon. But many
of their instructors were among the hundreds there for the pep
rally, too. They were all celebrating the school's signature moment
- its upset of No. 20 Kentucky at Rupp Arena a night earlier.
"UKan't run with the Dawgs!" read one sign. Another student
carried a blue Kentucky banner, only "Who?" was spray-painted
over it in giant red letters.
As the players milled around next to the cheerleaders and the
band, coach Rick Scruggs was trying to talk over the cheers despite
his hoarse voice. He had dark circles under his eyes, alternating
between a wide smile and a look of bewilderment.
"The enormity of it, it's still hitting me now," Scruggs said.
"You always think about playing in Rupp, at North Carolina and
those people."
Only this private Baptist school of 4,000 students won, beating
the winningest program in Division I college basketball history -
by 16 on its home floor - in the second round of the 2K Sports
College Hoops Classic. And the party showed no signs of letting up
Thursday afternoon in this sleepy town 50 miles west of Charlotte.
"It's been fun," former walk-on and leading scorer Grayson
Flittner said. "It's neat to see a little buzz around Boiling
Springs, N.C., for once."
The western part of North Carolina has become the king of the
little guy. Two months ago, Appalachian State, two hours away in
Boone, stunned then-No. 5 Michigan, the winningest program in
Division I college football history. But at least the Mountaineers
were powers of the lower-tier of Division I.
Gardner-Webb was 9-21 last season playing in the low-major
Atlantic Sun Conference. They lost by 53 at North Carolina, by 48
to Wisconsin.
All that changed Wednesday night. The Bulldogs jumped out to a
14-0 lead, led by 11 at halftime and withstood a brief Kentucky run
by shooting 53 percent in the 84-68 win.
Flittner, a sophomore who earned a scholarship after his
freshman year, scored a career-high 22 points. Not bad for a kid
who grew up in Sharpsville, Ind., glued to the Hoosiers-Wildcats
rivalry.
"That's beyond my wildest dreams to go to Rupp," Flittner
said. "To just play there is one thing, but to get a W by 16,
that's a whole another thing."
Flittner and Thomas Sanders, who had 21 points and 10 rebounds,
walked into the school cafeteria for lunch Thursday and were
greeted with a standing ovation.
And the ride isn't ending for the Bulldogs. They'll play in the
semifinals of the tournament next week against either Connecticut
or Buffalo in New York.
"If you had told me we'd be playing at Rupp Arena and Madison
Square Garden in back to back weeks, I never would have believed
it," Scruggs said.
It's quite a turnaround for a school whose brief run in Division
I has been tumultuous.
Gardner-Webb used to be a junior college. Six-time NBA All-Star
center Artis Gilmore played here before transferring to
Jacksonville. It later became a four-year school and enjoyed
basketball success at the NAIA and NCAA Division II level.
Scruggs came on as coach in 1995 and oversaw the school's
transition to Division I during the 2000-01 season. A year later,
scandal hit when school president Christopher White resigned after
admitting he tampered with basketball player Carlos Webb's
grade-point average to keep him eligible.
Gardner-Webb was placed on probation. It was banned from
postseason play and had scholarships taken away.
Scruggs overcame the mess, slowly rebuilding the program by
recruiting junior college and foreign players. The Bulldogs beat
Minnesota two seasons ago, the same year they took North Carolina
to the wire before losing.
They struggled last year, but the probation restrictions were
lifted in the spring. Now Gardner-Webb is the darling of college
basketball.
"Since the probation everything has been going so good," said
Scruggs, whose team will move to the Big South Conference next
season. "We've got a lot of things in place at the school that
will safeguard from anything happening again. We've got a new
president that's done a great job. Our athletic director is
tremendously supportive."
Scruggs' roster includes three players from Australia and two
more from Africa. And if any of the foreign players were unsure of
the significance of winning at Rupp Arena - where Kentucky had been
401-50 all-time - the game was being replayed on a giant screen in
the school's arena late Thursday afternoon.
The players stayed and watched, even though they had gotten
little sleep from an overnight bus ride back from Kentucky.
"That bus ride lasted seven hours. I wouldn't have cared if it
lasted 10," Scruggs said. "It was just a great night. It was a
tremendous opportunity for us and we took advantage of it."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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