Sunday, January 5, 2014

Brooks and Droney Make the Difference (Recap of Davidson v. Wofford)

When I last saw Davidson in person, it was a home game at the Belk Arena vs. Drexel on a relatively warm December Sunday afternoon.  In that game, the Wildcats were without their two best all around players, senior forward De'Mon Brooks and senior guard Tom Droney.  Both Brooks and Droney were out due to injuries. The Dragons won 72-58 as the Wildcats struggled on offense, as they shot a horrid three of twenty two from beyond the arc.

Entering Saturday night's game, Davidson had lost five in a row and their record was 4-10.  This is unusual for a Wildcats team that has made the NCAA Tournament each of the past two seasons, along with five of the past eight seasons and has not had a losing season since the 2000-01 season.  McKillop has had six NCAA Tournament teams, three NIT teams and a stunning 249-95 record in Southern Conference play since 1992.

However, losing streaks and early season records can be misleading.   In their last three losses, the Wildcats lost in overtime at #14 North Carolina, lost only by eleven at #10 Wichita State (and they were only down four with four minutes left) and lost to Charleston at home on New Year's Day after leading at halftime (a 19-5 second half run by the Cougars doomed the Wildcats).

Davidson always plays, what Matt Doherty once noted, as a "ridiculously tough non-conference schedule." Along with North Carolina and Wichita State, the Wildcats this season also played at Duke (lost 111-77), at Charlotte (won in overtime 87-78), neutral site games at New Mexico, Virginia, Clemson and Georgia (only win was over Georgia at the Charleston Classic).   McKillop has done this in part due to the Southern Conference's low overall RPI.  By playing a tough non conference schedule, Davidson's RPI will be much higher.  In fact, despite a 4-10 record, Davidson's current RPI, 157, is higher than 10-3 Mississippi State's RPI, 176.

Despite moving from the Southern Conference to the much tougher A-10 next season, McKillop's non conference schedule will be just as tough, as he has schedule Duke, North Carolina and Virginia for the next two season as well.  He noted in article in the the Charlotte Observer that "We’re going to be just as national and just as aggressive and understanding that, yes, the Atlantic 10 is going to be a significant challenge, but we’re still going to be very aggressive and national in scope,"

Playing such a tough non-conference schedule has worked out for Davidson in the past.  In the 2007-08 season, the Wildcats started 4-6 on the season, due to losses early on to nationally ranked teams such as #1 North Carolina, #7 Duke, and at #7 UCLA.  Davidson would respond with a twenty five game winning streak, including going undefeated in regular season and tournament play in the Southern Conference, then three wins in a row in the NCAA Tournament to make the Elite Eight.   The Wildcats were only a Jason Richards missed three at the buzzer from making the Final Four.

Wofford entered Saturday night's game having won three games in a row, including winning their first conference game, a 71-61 win over Samford.  This was also my second Terriers' game of the season, having seen them barely lose to William and Mary 63-60 at the Benjamin Johnson Arena.

As noted in the past eight seasons, Davidson has been the Southern Conference representative five times. Well Wofford is one of the two other schools that have made the NCAA Tournament during that period, having made the NCAA Tournament two years in a row in 2009-10 and 2010-11 under Young.  Chattanooga made the NCAA Tournament as the SoCon representative in 2008-09 after Steph Curry and Davidson was upset in the Southern Conference semifinals by the College of Charleston.

The Benjamin Johnson Arena is quickly becoming one of my favorite venues here in South Carolina.  As I noted in my previous article, it's really more a small gym enclosed in a nice Student Center with concessions, a coffee bar and comfortable lounge seating near the coffee bar.  As I got to the entrance to the student center, it noted that it was "Happy Hoops Year", as they had a women's home basketball game earlier in the day.

This was my first time sitting in the West Section of the arena.  On Saturday night, the ticket takers didn't have scanners.  So the ticket takers were taking tickets.  He took mine, then realized I was sitting in the reserved area in the front row.  As I noted to you all in my earlier Wofford article this season, it's worth the extra $2 to pay for the reserved seats that have the seat backs as opposed to the wooden bleachers.  He gave me back my tickets saying that I would need to show my ticket for where I was sitting, which was W5, Row A, Seat 1.

As I walked down the aisle, I realized where I would sitting for the evening, right behind the Wofford bench. I usually don't like to sit right behind a team's bench, because your view can be obstructed by bench players standing at times to support their teams.  But it also does allow you some insight, PA system permitting, to what the coach is saying to his team during timeouts.  Plus it was kind of cool seeing the starting Australian point guard for Wofford come out to "INDIANAAA FAITHFULL" during player introductions.

The game started out with the Terriers jumping out to an 8-4 lead at the under 16 media timeout.  Wofford's leading scorer on the season, the talented Spencer Collins, hit two baskets early on and Lee Skinner added a basket and an assist.  It's at the under 16 media timeout that Wofford holds it's "Cheeseburger in Paradise" promotion, where the cheerleaders handout/throw McDonald's cheeseburgers to fans while Jimmy Buffett's "Cheeseburger in Paradise" plays on the PA system.  This was my third time at a Wofford game and now all three times, I have got a cheeseburger.  Awesome.

During the first four minutes, Brooks only had one touch for the Wildcats and that resulted in a traveling call. Well McKillop must have told his team during the media timeout to feed the big man, because Davidson came out rolling off a 13-0 run on Wofford.  Brooks was unstoppable during this nearly three and a half minute span, scoring nine of the thirteen points.   His jumper put Davidson up 17-8 with a little less than twelve and a half minutes remaining in the first half.

After a media timeout, where Terriers Head Coach Mike Young implored his team to "be aggressive", the rest of the first half saw Davidson and Wofford play evenly as far as points scored.  The Wildcats largest lead over the last twelve plus minutes was ten points.  The Terriers still had no answer to stopping Brooks, who scored another eight points the rest of the half to give him seventeen first half points, along with seven rebounds.  Collins and Skinner did the best they could to keep Wofford in the game, combining for seventeen first half points as Davidson maintained a nine point lead, 37-28 at halftime.

Davidson shot a scorching sixty percent from the field in the first twenty minutes, much of which came from Brooks, who was eight of eleven from the field in the first half.  Wofford only shot thirty nine percent in the first half.

What I always love about mid major schools are the halftime shows they put on.  Usually it's a local boys or girls basketball game.  But Wofford does something different.  At the William and Mary game, it was a step dancing group that played at halftime.   This time it was a local martial arts group, with a bunch of young kids showing off various martial arts techniques and simulated fights.  It made for good theater.

The second half picked up right where the first half led off, with Brooks scoring the first two baskets for Davidson, which extended their lead to eleven, 41-30.  Skinner and Collins continued to do their best to keep Wofford in the game, scoring the team's first three baskets.  Collins three pointer got the lead back down to nine, 44-35 with seventeen and a half minutes left in the game.

But that's as close as the Terriers would get the rest of the game.  Davidson went on a 13-4 run over the span of about four and a half minutes.  Brooks of course was heavily involved, scoring five points, including a three point play and added an assist.  Two Droney free throws put the Wildcats up eighteen, 57-39 with a little less than thirteen minutes left in the game.

During a timeout, Young begged his team to "keep fighting".  The Terriers responded, scoring six straight points to cut the lead to twelve, 57-45.  Skinner scored four of his team high twenty two points in that mini spurt.

But Davidson would not be denied this night.  Droney led the way on another Wildcats' charge, this time a
16-7 spurt, capped by a Brian Sullivan three pointer to put Davidson up 73-52 with a little less than six minutes left in the game.  Droney scored nine points in the run and assisted on another basket.

All that was left was for both teams to clear their benches with about ninety seconds to play.  Davidson would go on and win their first Southern conference game of the season, an impressive 78-63 win.  The Wildcats had finally broken their five game losing streak and in the process, broke Wofford's three game winning streak.

Brooks had a double double with twenty eight points and twelve rebounds, along with four assists and two steals as he shot twelve of sixteen on the game.  Droney added eighteen points, shooting six of seven from the field and a perfect four of four from the line. Tyler Kalinoski added nine points for the Wildcats as Davidson shot sixty one percent from the field on the evening (thirty of forty nine).

Skinner led the Terriers with twenty four points and nine rebounds. Collins added sixteen points for Wofford.  Skinner and Collins combined to shoot fifteen of twenty eight from the field. The rest of the team combined to shoot only eight of twenty seven from the field.

For at least one more evening, Davidson was the big bad team on the SoCon block.  Though it's sad to see a long time Southern Conference staple like the Wildcats leave the conference after this season, one wonders if other schools aren't happy to see Davidson leave the SoCon.

Till then, Davidson stills seems to be the team to beat in the SoCon this year.

No comments:

Post a Comment