Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Coach Tim Craft follows Christ while leading Gardner-Webb to 1st NCAA Tournament appearance

Gardner-Webb is not expected to win its first-round matchup against Virginia on Friday in the NCAA Tournament. As a No. 16 seed, the Bulldogs are 22-point underdogs, and only one 16-seed has ever defeated a 1-seed. That was last year when Virginia was stunned by UMBC. It would be a bigger shock if Virginia were to fall to a 16th seed a second straight year.

Regardless, Gardner-Webb has enjoyed a remarkable season. The Bulldogs are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance at the Division I level, following a 23-11 season capped by a Big South Tournament championship. After the 76-65 win over Radford to clinch the berth, sixth-year head coach Tim Craft thanked his Lord and Savior.

“I’m just really humbled right now and blessed to get a chance to coach this group of guys,” Craft said. “I want to give all the honor and glory to Jesus Christ, number one, and just thank God for what He’s done in my life, our family’s life and these players’ lives. I’m really proud of them. It was a hard fought win here on the road and I’m just really proud of them for pulling through.”

A private, Christian university in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb is a nationally-recognized leader in Christian higher education. The school says spiritual formation plays an integral role on campus, is dedicated to integrating scholarship with Christian life, and embraces faith and intellectual freedom to prepare graduates to make “significant contributions for God and humanity.”

It made the jump to Division I athletics in 2000, and hired Craft, a self-described “Christ-follower” in July 2013. He’s led the Bulldogs to four straight trips to the Big South Conference tournament semifinals; wins over Power Five programs including Clemson, Purdue, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Nebraska; and now their first-ever appearance in the Big Dance. Gardner-Webb previously made national tournament appearances at the NJCAA, NAIA and NCAA Division II levels.

During a Selection Sunday watch party at the university on Sunday, Craft also gave glory to God while speaking to the crowd.

“God has really blessed our program,” he said, “and we’re so grateful for the season we’ve had.”

It continues Friday at 3:10 p.m. ET and will air on Tru-TV.

h/t Dalphene Mays

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