By Craig Pearson
TERRE HAUTE — This week was circled on Nate Blank’s calendar back in April when he made his decision to play basketball for Gardner-Webb.
The 2007 Terre Haute North graduate knew he would have a chance to play in Rupp Arena at Lexington, Ky., but it was no guarantee the Bulldogs would have a chance to face off against the winningest program in college basketball history.
Gardner-Webb had to defeat Alabama A&M; first, which it did as the freshman Blank tallied 10 points in that victory.
Then it was time to make history against a program that had been 401-50 all-time at home. Gardner-Webb, on the other hand, just became Division I during the 2000-01 season.
Blank played a scoring role Wednesday with 12 points and ended up a little physically beat up, he said Thursday when reached on his cell phone.
Blank drew two charges against the Wildcats and also was the recipient of an elbow to the face that drew an offensive foul call on Kentucky. The former Indiana All-Star suffered a broken nose, he said.
“My eyes are black and my nose won’t stop bleeding,” Blank said, “and I’ll do it again to see Rupp Arena clearing out with about 7 minutes to go when you’re up 20. It’s a great feeling.”
Before holding on for a 84-68 victory, Gardner-Webb bolted out to a 14-0 lead with Blank hitting a 3-pointer and a 2-pointer during the run.
Blank spent Thursday like most other students at Gardner-Webb, taking the day off from classes at the small university at Boiling Springs, N.C., and soaking in the moment.
“We’ve been getting standing ovations walking into the cafeteria,” Blank said. “They started like a pep session. People were just out of control. People were out all night last night just running around campus, taking it in just like we are.”
Blank wasn’t shocked he and his teammates were able to pull off the upset against the No. 20 team in the country, he said.
“We had a great game plan going in and we executed it,” he said. “We realized some of Kentucky’s flaws and just attacked them. We went in thinking we could win.”
The team made the seven-hour bus ride back from Lexington, Ky., after Wednesday’s game. Blank said the team leaves Tuesday night for New York to play in the final four of the 2K Hoops College Classic. The team will play the winner of the Storrs Regional, which could potentially be Connecticut. The Huskies played Buffalo on Thursday night.
“It was a total team effort,” Blank added. “Our team is in it for the team. We’ve got a lot of talented players and a lot of smart players. We know we’re not going to the [NCAA] tournament or anything without each other.”
Craig Pearson can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (812) 231-4356.