The Runnin' Bulldogs (1-2) of the Atlantic Sun Conference had scored 80 and 77 in first two games of the year against North Carolina and East Carolina, but could only muster 43 against the Tigers while shooting just 28.3 percent from the floor.
"Defensively we were awfully good in this game again," said Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo. "Offensively in the first half, I thought we were good. In the second half we weren't near as good offensively. I'm shocked that we were up 24 points and I'm shocked they only had 43 points. Part of that was us and part of it was that they didn't play great. We beat a good basketball team today."
The game was all but over at halftime as Auburn led 42-18. At that point the Bulldogs had 11 turnovers and just six made field goals on 28 shots, while Auburn had only four turnovers and drained 16-32 shots in the first 20 minutes. Swingman Brian Bender had 11 of Gardner-Webb's 18 points.
Gardner-Webb finished the game making just 15-53 shots and committing 18 turnovers against a balanced mix of man to man and zone defenses by Auburn. Last year with such a height disadvantage for the Tigers, Lebo was limited to just a small number of defensive looks but with newcomers Joey Cameron, Korvotney Barber and Josh Dollard on the low block the Tigers have been able to defend in different ways in the first two ball games.
"We mixed defenses and that's what we wanted to do," Lebo said. "We played an extended 1-3-1 and we play it different ways depending on how you attack it."
Lebo's squad played very good defense against an offensive team of Bulldogs.
One player Lebo was especially pleased with after the game on both sides of the court was freshman point guard Quantez Robinson, who also played well in the season opening win over Lipscomb.
"I thought Quantez was terrific again out there with six assists and one turnover," Lebo said. "He was tough in the back of the zone. He got his hands on a lot of balls, he rebounded back there and he was efficient out there."
Auburn guard Frank Tolbert, a player known for his relentless hustle plays, also caused problems against the less athletic Gardner-Webb team. "We came out just trying to play ball," he said. "We just tried to make them take hard shots and not let them get good looks at the goal. We were mainly worried about our defense against these guys. They're good shooters and they can penetrate to find the open man so we just tried to focus on defense tonight."
Bulldog center Simon Conn averaged 20.5 points per game heading into the contest, but was a non-factor against an Auburn team that tried to run the floor. The big man played only two minutes in the second half and finished with six points.
"Our quickness bothered Conn in transition and they couldn't play him as much," Lebo said. "They took him out in the second half because of his defense. They're a different team without him in the game because of their scoring presence inside."
The Auburn scoring was just as Lebo expected with no true scoring threat on the court. Senior Ronny LeMelle was again the leading scorer with 12 points. Seven different Tigers dropped in between six and 12 points.
Auburn also had a huge rebounding lead in the game with a plus-19 advantage at 52-33. Cameron had nine for the Tigers and was followed by Hayles (seven), Barber (seven), Dollard (six) and Tolbert (six).
"Overall I feel like we did a nice job," Lebo said. "We showed some grit and some hustle. Frank (Tolbert) made some great hustle plays. Moses Edun made some terrific plays in his time that he was out there. We got on the floor and played hard and it was a good win for our team."
The Tigers take the road for the first time against Colorado State in Fort Collins, Col., on Monday night at 8 p.m.
"Colorado State is very good and they're undefeated right now," Lebo said. "They've beaten Colorado already. They've got size as they did last year. They've got a 7-foot guy inside and they're much more athletic than they were here last year. It's the first road test for these young guys to it'll be interesting to see how they do."