By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
The Colonels picked up the program’s first-ever postseason win with a 69-62 victory over Gardner-Webb in the opening round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament Tuesday in Boiling Springs, N.C.
Corey Walden hit an off-balance banked-in three pointer while falling out of bounds as the shot clock ran out to break a 62-62 tie with 1:08 to go to put the Colonels up for good.
Mike DiNunno hit two free throws, his only points of the night, with 2.6 seconds left to cap the victory.
“Very rarely are we going to call a timeout there. We just let our guys play, so we were very fortunate to be on that side of the bank,” EKU coach Jeff Neubauer said in a radio interview. “Corey Walden has made a lot of threes this year, a lot of shots. That is a big shot for this team.”
Walden led all scorers with 26 points, including four three pointers and eight-of-10 free throws. He also had one assist and five steals.
Glenn Cosey hit six-of-eight three pointers on his way to matching his season high of 22 points, and Eric Stutz added 10 points and a team-high six rebounds.
The Colonels broke open a close game with a 10-2 run mid-way through the first half to go up 29-18 on Cosey’s third three pointer of the half.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs scored five straight to cut the lead to 29-23 but could get no closer than three and EKU took a 34-31 lead into the locker room at the half.
The Colonels opened the second half with an 18-6 run to take a 52-37 lead on another Cosey three with 13:04 left.
But after a technical foul on Marcus Lewis for trash talking, Gardner-Webb scored 10 straight on its way to a 23-8 run to pull within four at 59-55.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs eventually tied the game at 60-60 on two free throws by Jarome Hill with just less than five minutes to go.
Over the next 2:30 EKU managed only one free throw each by Walden and Tarius Johnson, while Gardner-Webb was held scoreless until a basket by Hill tied it at 62 all with 1:44 to go, setting up Walden’s wild shot at the end of the shot clock.
“It was a really good atmosphere as far as the crowd. It’s very loud in here and their crowd really got into it and fueled their comeback,” Neubauer said. “It was a very good basketball game and I felt like we had to play hard. Obviously, Corey Walden and Glenn Cosey offensively were really, really good tonight and that is why we won.”
The game got a little testy following Lewis’ technical with two more technicals being called on Mike DiNunno and GW’s Tyler Strange with seven minutes left.
After the game, there was some type of confrontation between players from the two teams as they left the floor, with some in the crowd also getting involved.
Police had to assist the players from the floor and also escort Neubauer out for his radio interview after the game and help clear the fans from the stands.
Neubauer said it is a shame that the skirmish after the game will be what is remembered from the contest instead of the high-quality game that was played.
“We had a very good basketball game here tonight. Two teams really competed at a very high level and then what is going to be on TV, Youtube or the Internet is the craziness at the end. So it is really disappointing that that was allowed to happen in this building,” Neubauer said.
Marcus Lewis finished with five points, Tarius Johnson had four points and five rebounds while DiNunno had two points and five assists.
The Colonels will play in the second round of the CIT on Saturday or Sunday, with the opponent at location to be decided after the remaining first-round games that will be played today.
EKU’s last postseason national tournament victory came on March 17, 1945. EKU defeated Southern Illinois in the third place game of the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball (NAIB) Tournament. The NAIB became the NAIA in 1952.
This is Eastern’s first postseason national tournament appearance since playing in the College Basketball Invitational in 2010.