For the second week in a row, I went to Belk Arena on the lovely campus of Davidson College to watch the Wildcats host the Seahawks of UNC Wilmington. But as I did last week with Matt Cayuela, I wanted to have dinner and a tasty beverage first. But when I went to the Brick House Tavern, the place was packed and there were no spots at the bar, as there were the week before.
So I took a short walk to Main Street looking for a place to eat. I found the Toast Café, saw the dinner menu on the board outside the restaurant and walked into the place. There was a bar on the right hand side and a main dining error with more tables in the back. Immediately a waiter and the hostess said they would be right with me.
The hostess led me to a small table in the back, midway between the main dining area and the smaller back dining area. I liked the paintings done by local artists and the tapestry hanging on the wall. When I first came in, there were a few people sitting at tables. Within fifteen minutes, just about every table was filled, several with Davidson fans. A sure sign that this was not only a local hangout, but a well liked restaurant as well.
I decided on the Prix Fixe menu; Caesar salad, chicken Marsala and what turned out to be a terrific brownie ice cream dessert. I washed that delicious meal down with a Fat Tire beer. The Toast Café in Davidson is very highly recommended by yours truly.
After the meal, I made the familiar walk down Concord Road to Belk Arena. Before I went to my seat, I went to see my friend, Brian Mull, the terrific sports writer for the Wilmington Star and the beat writer for UNC Wilmington. Brian was starting to tweet his fun facts about UNCW, as he does before every game, when I said hello. We talked for about five minutes or so about the game, CAA, Atlantic Ten and Big East basketball as well as our families.
After talking with Brian, I made my way to my seat on the other side of the arena. My seat in section 106, Row G, was basically center court. I took a picture of the seventeen Southern Conference Championship banners in the rafters and tweeted that to the few, the proud, the followers of my twitter account.
Before the game, I also noted on my twitter account that if UNCW could gain an advantage on the boards, especially on the offensive end, the Seahawks would have a shot to win the game. They needed that advantage to offset the three point advantage Davidson had. Coming into the game, UNCW was 288th in the country in three point field goal percentage at 28.7 percent. The Seahawks only average four three point field goals per game.
Early on, UNCW was holding its own. In the first eight and a half minutes, the Seahawks held the Wildcats scoreless from beyond the arc and Davidson was only 2 of 10 from the field. The score was 9-9 with 12:30 left.
Keith Rendleman, the wonderful forward for the Seahawks, did his best to keep his team in the game in the first twelve minutes. Rendleman scored ten points during that time frame. He did it in various ways; layups, a sweet little face up outside jumper and his best was a one handed putback slam that tied the score early on at seven.
But you can only keep a good shooting team like Davidson down for so long. First it was De’Mon Brooks working inside to put Davidson up to stay 13-9 with a couple of free throws and a basket. Then the Wildcat three point barrage started. Davidson would hit four three pointers over the last nine minutes and forty three seconds of the first half.
Clint Mann was in the thick of things scoring nine straight points for the Wildcats who opened up a fourteen point lead, 35-21. The Davidson student section started a large chorus of “You can’t stop him” and gave Mann a loud ovation when Mann took the bench late in the first half. The Wildcats led at the half 35-23.
People ask me why I prefer to sit in the stands than sit on press row, which I do on occasion. The main reason is that most of the time in the past two years, I am with my older son Matthew, which due to my family situation has been rare this season. The other reason I tell them is that you get a better perspective from sitting in the stands, especially what other fans are thinking about the game and the players.
Last night, I was sitting near several UNCW fans, who made the drive from Wilmington to Davidson. Late in the first half, Seahawk guard Freddie Jackson drove the lane, stopped and nailed a short jumper. A UNCW fan behind me yelled “See, a little penetration will go a long way!” Hearing the fan talk with his friend afterwards, apparently Jackson doesn’t drive the lane enough.
And that actually was a telling remark about the first half of play and the difference between the two teams. Davidson passes the ball really well; quickly, sharply, looking for the open man on the defense. It’s a trademark of a Bob McKillop coached team. This often leads to open three point looks and as noted, the Wildcats are very good at hitting the three pointer.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks struggle on offense. As noted, they don’t have good three point shooting. Also, the Seahawks, especially point guard Tanner Milson, dribbled the ball too much. This allows the defense to concentrate on the ball handler and often results in forced shots with not much time left on the shot clock. Such was the case for UNCW last night.
Just like last Saturday, there was another entertaining grade school basketball game at halftime. Once the second half started, the Seahawks made their best run of the game. Rendleman made a couple of layups while Milson buried two three pointers and hit a two point jumper in the span of barely over four minutes. UNCW had gone on a 14-5 run to cut the Davidson lead to 40-37 with fifteen and a half minutes left. During a timeout, the student section heartily sang along with Mariah Carey’s version of “All I Want for Christmas”.
Then the Wildcats’ Jake Cohen went to work, giving the student section an early Christmas present. In the span of a little over four minutes, Cohen scored thirteen points, including six from the free throw line. After a JP Kuhlman layup, the Wildcats had outscored the Seahawks 21-11. Davidson was up 61-48 with about eight minutes left. During the under eight media timeout, the entire crowd sang along to “Sweet Caroline”, which was their theme song during their magical run in the 2008 NCAA Tournament (remember it fondly from being at the Raleigh regional).
Rendleman and Cedrick Williams each hit jumpers to cut the lead briefly back to single digits, 61-52 with seven minutes left. But once again, Davidson went back to its bread and butter, the three pointer to close the deal. Chris Czerapowicz nailed two shots from beyond the arc and Cohen as well hit a three pointer. The Wildcats had opened up a fourteen point lead, 70-56 with three and a half minutes to go in the game.
All that was left was the creative Davidson student section to start loudly singing “Silent Night”, which brought a lot of smiles and laughs from the crowd in my section. It was fitting because UNCW was about to” sleep in heavenly peace” as far as the final score. Davidson would eventually win 77-61.
Cohen led four Davidson scorers in double figures with twenty one points, most of which came in the second half. Brooks was a double double terror inside for the Wildcats, scoring fourteen points and adding twelve rebounds, six on the offensive end. Mann had all thirteen of his points in the first half while Czerapowicz added fourteen points, including four three pointers.
Rendleman led the Seahawks with twenty points and nine rebounds, but only two came on the offensive end. He was double teamed all night and was forced to hit outside jumpers, which kept him from the glass. Milson was the only other Seahawk in double figures with ten points.
UNCW shot the ball well, shooting forty seven percent and actually had more field goal attempts than Davidson (57-53). But as Brian Mull so aptly put it, the view of their three point statistics told the difference. UNCW was only 3 of 7 from beyond the arc while Davidson was 9 of 22. That’s an eighteen point difference. The margin of victory was sixteen. Also the Seahawks were only 4 of 10 from the line (Rendleman was 2 of 6), while the Wildcats, the ninth ranked team in the country in free throw shooting at 78.3 percent, was 16 of 20.
After the game, I finally met Mid Majority Writer, Ian “The Machine” McCormack, who is ubiquitous in his coverage of South Carolina and North Carolina college basketball. I have been an admirer of his work and we will be sitting together for the Appalachian State – South Carolina game on Wednesday.
I made my way back to my car which was in a school parking lot across from the Brick House Tavern. After talking with my wife on the phone briefly, I drove my car over to the Brick House parking lot. I went into the Brick House and had a beer at the bar while waiting for Brian Mull to come by after he finished his work.
Since there were no seats at the bar available, I was standing by the corner of the bar. A few minutes in, a gentleman came up from behind me and said "Excuse me". It was Coach McKillop. He was out celebrating the win with his wife and his coaches. I introduced myself as a fellow former Long Islander (read my previous article for Coach McKillop’s Long Island background) and we talked for a few minutes. He described his team’s play last night as “efficient” and he couldn’t have been nicer. I wished him a Happy Holidays and we toasted.
Brian came by after he finished his article and we sat at the bar and talked for a while. Mr. Mull knows his North Carolina basketball and we talked for seemingly a good hour. Afterwards, we said our goodbyes and I told him I would certainly see him on February 9th for the Hofstra-UNCW game and some good barbecue. Brian is good people.
I was smart enough to have had only one beer in three plus hours at the bar. Also I had two coca colas before I left the bar, which was important because the caffeine more than kept me alert on the road. Turns out I needed that caffeine. About twenty minutes outside of Columbia on I-77, there was a deer in the middle of the darkened road. I saw it just in time and honked. The deer moved just enough as I swerved to the right to avoid it.
Knowing my wife would be up, I called immediately to tell her what happened. She picked up immediately and thought I had been in accident. I told her I was fine and just wanted to share with her what happened. You always hear of stories about cars hitting or nearly hitting deer late at night. This was my first experience with that and a reminder that I wasn’t in Long Island anymore.
But no potential deer in the road will deter me from going to Davidson again for a Saturday night basketball game if the schedule warrants it. Davidson is a wonderful college town with a cozy basketball arena, nice local surroundings and a good basketball team.
And if you’re fortunate, you might literally run into the head coach at the local bar/restaurant after the game.