Sunday, January 6, 2013

Wildcats Show How It's Done (Recap of UNCG v. Davidson)

After watching the South Carolina State - South Carolina game, I took the now familiar drive from Columbia to Davidson to see the Wildcats play the Spartans of UNC Greensboro in Southern Conference play.  I parked in the same school parking lot across from the Brick House Tavern and made the again familiar walk on main street into Davidson town, then down to Belk Arena on the school campus.

After I walked in to the arena and the usher scanned my ticket, I pulled two dollars out of my pocket and preceded to walk straight to a small stand.  Before I was even up to the stand, the tall pretty short haired very friendly blonde at the stand said "Now there comes a man prepared".  She knew I was there to get my program and knew how much it cost.  Two dollars.  She told me De'Mon Brooks was the featured player in the program and thanked me.  Nineteen years ago, I might have struck up a conversation with her.  But I have a pretty long brown haired woman with two cute blonde haired kids waiting to move down to South Carolina with me.  They are my world, well that and college basketball.

Now it is early January and most colleges are not in session, as was the case with South Carolina earlier in the day.  Davidson was also the case, but unlike South Carolina, who had their cheerleaders, dance team and pep band, the Wildcats had none of the above.  So filling in for the pep band was a local cover group called Cradle Fish, composed of drummer/vocalist (who sang the national anthem), keyboard player, guitarist and bass player.  When they started out with Johnny B. Goode, I knew I we would get along just fine.

Davidson was coming off a nationally televised loss to #1 Duke on national TV on Wednesday.  The Wildcats were tied with the Blue Devils at the half before the Dukies clamped down on defense and won by seventeen.  Coming off a tough loss like that, you often don't know how a team will respond in their next game.

Davidson showed quickly that there was no hangover from their loss to Duke.  In what would be a common theme for the game, Jake Cohen scored the first five points of the game.   UNC Greensboro would not score their first basket until five minutes into the game.  By that time the score was 12-4 Wildcats.  Two Nik Cochran free throws and a Brooks dunk extended the Davidson lead to 16-4.

It was clearly evident six minutes into the game that you had two teams with different half court sets and mind frames.   Watching Davidson in their half court set is an absolute pleasure.   Not only do they move the ball around, the players are also in constant motion.   In fact during one play in the second half, you could clearly hear Bob McKillop yell out "Keep it moving!"   The Wildcats half court offense leads to either a lot of open three point looks, which they hit eight on the night, or back door layup opportunities (Davidson was 19 of 33 on two point field goals).

Meanwhile, at the outset, Wes Miller's UNCG team's half court offense needed some work.  It's not that they are not talented.   They may have been 2-9 on the season entering the game, but they had close losses at East Carolina, Rutgers and Virginia Tech.  Plus they won their only conference game, a thirty point home pasting of Citadel.   Last season, they won eleven of their last sixteen games and return their two top leading scorers, Trevell Simpson and Derrell Armstrong.   Plus they added a former CAA player I know well in fifth year senior forward Kelvin McNeil who played at Delaware for his first three seasons (averages six points and nearly seven rebounds per games).

And, for a brief time, the Spartans made a game of it.  They outscored the Wildcats 7-2 and after David Williams three pointer, UNC Greensboro was only down 18-11 with 11:21 left.  Perhaps they just needed a little time to get settled.

But for the rest of the game, the Spartans basically shot themselves in the foot on offense.  On most of their half court sets, UNC Greensboro barely used any of the shot clock and took a ton of off balanced, forced, bad shots.  Players would drive into double teams and put shots off the backboard, a couple of times off the side of the backboard.  And if not, then they would be called for an offensive foul.   It was like they had a bus to catch. Often you just cringed at what the Spartans put up.  Yes, it was that bad.

As you could guess, the result was Davidson and their precision offense started picking apart UNC Greensboro. Cohen nailed a three pointer to start a 17-7 run. Nik Cochran capped it with another three pointer to put the Wildcats up 35-18 with about three and half minutes left in the first half. Davidson would enter halftime with a 45-27 lead.

Cradle Fish was making my night. It's not often you hear a pep band, or in this case "a guest band" play Allman Brothers at halftime or "Another Brick in the Wall". But my favorite song they played was "Rambling Gambling Man" by Bob Seger. It's one of his lesser known songs, but it's a favorite of mine.

And Wes Miller must have felt like a rambling gambling man that was out of luck. His team apparently didn't listen to him at halftime. UNCG continued with their off balance, rushed shots. As a result, Davidson extended their lead to twenty one, 55-34 with about fourteen minutes left.

Then the Wildcats ended any Spartans' fans hopes of making the game respectable by outscoring the visitors 22-6 over the next seven and half minutes. JP Kuhlman buried a three pointer to put Davidson up 77-40 with six and a half minutes left in the game. Several Davidson fans started heading to the exits, secure in the knowledge that their team had won the game.

All that was left was De'Mon Brooks to score his 1000th career point on a free throw. Bob McKillop emptied his bench in the last few minutes of the game. Seldom used Connor Perkey finished the Wildcats' scoring with a layup and Davidson had a 85-53 win.

Cohen led five Davidson scorers in double figures with twenty points and eight rebounds. Brooks had fourteen points and seven rebounds. Cochran had twelve points, Tyler Kalinoski came off the bench to score eleven points and Kuhlman added ten points. Armstrong was the only Spartans scorer in double figures with seventeen points. Simpson, the Spartans leading scorer on the season, was held to seven points and only attempted seven field goal attempts.

As I walked back on a brisk Main Street to get back to my car, I thought to myself that I had a very good time. Another impressive Davidson win and I really enjoyed the "guest band". On a cold January night, the experience of a fun college basketball game keeps you warm.

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