Sunday, February 8, 2015

Davidson Rolls Over Duquesne

Since I moved down to Columbia, South Carolina, I have seen the Davidson Wildcats play several times in Belk Arena.   A few times, I was able to get there early, have dinner in downtown, Davidson, an experience I highly recommend, then go to the game.  

Last evening, I had no such luxury of time.   Yesterday had been a baseball bonanza of a day.   First I had Little League Coach Pitch Baseball evaluations.  Over one hundred kids, including my younger son, Jonny, came out to evaluate at Trenholm Park, which happened to be on the same day of a volleyball tournament in the rec center of Trenholm Park.  Thus an overwhelmed parking lot.  Then a group of coaches, consisting of nine teams went into a room at the rec center building and drafted those one hundred players.   That took four hours of my day.

But that wasn't all.  Then I had travel ball practice with my older son, Matthew, who I coach along with eleven talented teammates and friends playing on their first travel team after having won a district coach pitch title the season before.  We took team pictures and then had a strenuous two hour practice.   Most people would be exhausted by that time.

Nope, Matthew and I had tickets to see one of my favorite teams to watch live, the Wildcats.  Wasn't missing that.   But the result was that we got to the University a few minutes after the game started.   We walked through the beautiful campus of Davidson College and made to our seats at Belk Arena ten minutes in the first half with Davidson leading Duquesne 24-13.

When I commented to someone yesterday at the baseball evaluations that I was going to Davidson, he noted about how Stephen Curry put them on the map.   He did, leading them to an Elite Eight appearance in 2008 and nearly a Final Four after a three point loss to Kansas. It was actually the third Elite Eight appearance in school history.  The other two came in 1968 and 1969 under then coach Lefty Driesell.   Both those times they lost close games to North Carolina in the Regional Final.

Those three NCAA Elite Eight appearances are still just a sample of the long history of success of the program.  When you look up in the rafters of the arena, you can't help but notice all the banners; all the Southern Conference championships, the NIT appearances and the twelve NCAA appearances.  Seven of those twelve appearances are a result largely of one man and it's not Steph Curry.  It's Bob McKillop, the man who recruited Curry to Davidson.

McKillop came to Davidson in 1989 after coaching at Long Island Lutheran High School from 1979 to 1989.   I remember that well growing up on the Island.   Long Island Lutheran was a perennial power in high school basketball thanks to McKillop.   And now Davidson is a perennial power in college basketball and the court is now appropriately named after him.

McKillop's teams pride themselves on movement, both with the ball and without the ball.  You will screens, picks, back door cuts, nice post passes and most importantly, good shooters.   Davidson's offense is truly fun to watch and McKillop is the mastermind behind it.

This is Davidson's first year in the Atlantic-10 and Belk Arena shows it.  The 5,000 seat venue was practically full for last night's game with Duquesne.  The Wildcats entered the contest at 5-4 in conference and 14-6 overall.

When we got to our seats, freshman Peyton Aldridge drilled a three to put the Wildcats up 27-15.  With the three pointer, Aldridge already had ten points in ten minutes of action.  The Dukes would respond scoring five of the next six points to cut the lead to eight, 28-20.    Jordan Watkins put Davidson up by ten 30-20.

Then things got really wild. Six of the next seven baskets scored were three pointers; three by Davidson and three by Duquesne.  Tyler Kalinoski assisted on two of the Wildcats' three pointers, and hit the other three pointer.   L.G. Gill capped the three point barrage for the Dukes, banking in a three pointer to cut the Davidson lead to eight once again, 39-31.    Everyone thought it was a one time fluke, but Gill would later bank another three pointer at the end of the first half.  Whether it was a fluke or not, that's for Gill to know and us likely to never find out.

But during the span between the three point bank shots, Davidson went on a 13-4 spurt as Aldridge continued to go to town on Duquesne, scoring another four points in the span.  Only Gill's banked three pointer to end the half kept the halftime deficit at fourteen, 52-38.   The Wildcats shot sixty percent in the first half, including eight of fifteen from beyond the arc.

Duquesne did their best to hang in there, shooting 48 percent from the field in the first half, including shooting fifty percent from three (five of ten),  Yet they were down fourteen points at the half.

One of the things you notice at a Davidson game is that that the student section often carries flags of other countries.  That's because the Wildcats have four players from outside the United States - Nathan Ekwu (Nigeria), Oskar Michelsen (Finland), Ali Mackay (Scotland) and Manu Giamoukis (Greece).

Starting the second half, considering probability, you would figure that the Wildcats would slow down scoring wise in the second half .  And at least for the first minute and a half, the Wildcats did exactly that, as they went scoreless.  The problem was that the Dukes couldn't take advantage and missed on all four of their field goal attempts and turned the ball over once during those first ninety seconds.

When you fail to take advantage of scoring opportunities against an offense that's so well disciplined, that moves so well with and without the ball like Davidson, it's playing with fire.  And Duquesne got burned as the Wildcats heated up from the field.  The Davidson offense played off their three point prowess and got the ball to Aldridge for a couple of post touches and scores.  The Wildcats extended their lead to twenty one, 65-44 with fifteen minutes left in the game.

Gill buried another three pointer and TySean Powell added a three point play to cut the deficit to fifteen, 67-52 with fourteen minutes left in the game.  But that's as close as the Dukes got the rest of the way as Duquesne simply could not keep up with the Davidson offense.    The Dukes went ice cold from beyond the arc in the second half,  shooting one of twelve from three in the last twenty minutes of the game.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats actually matched their first half shooting percentage, shooting sixty percent from the field in the second half.   They shot the ball a little less from three, though almost as accurate, shooting five of eleven from beyond the arc.   Davidson concentrated more on post play and back door cuts in the second half.  As soon as Duquesne converged inside with help defense, the Wildcats would find the open man for the three.  Jordan Barham found Kalinoski for an open three to put Davidson up twenty, 79-59 with 9:18 left.

The barrage on the Dukes was relentless as the Wildcats extended the lead to eventually twenty six, 95-69 with two minutes left.   That's when McKillop cleared his bench and that would be the final score.

Davidson showed incredible balance as six players scored in double figures. Brian Sullivan led the way with twenty three points, Aldridge added nineteen points, while Kalinoski had sixteen points.  Barham chipped in with twelve and  Ekwu and Watkins each had eleven points.

What was scary about this is that the Wildcats second best player, Jack Gibbs is still indefinitely out with a slight meniscus tear in his knee. What might even be more scary is that Kalinoski is the only senior that plays significant minutes for Davidson.

As we headed out, I took a picture of the Wildcat statute, which is directly across from the Belk Arena entrance.  At a night, it's an ominous sight.  And if Davidson keeps playing like they did last night, the Wildcats will be an ominous sight for A-10 opponents for seasons to come.

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