Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports

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Davidson Cruises By URI

Davidson (17-9, 9-6 in A-10) completed a successful homestand with its third straight victory, besting Rhode Island 65-54 in a relatively comfortable game. The win keeps Davidson alive in their quest to earn the fourth seed and a double bye at the Atlantic 10 Tournament. In holding the Rams to 34% shooting, it was one of the best defensive performances of the year from Davidson.

Peyton Aldridge knocked down a triple on the first possession on way to 14 first half points and 24 for the night on 4-6 shooting from deep. The big man was instrumental in helping contain Rhode Island’s bigs with double-teams and weak-side blocks. His box-outs freed the guards to grab rebounds, with Davidson outrebounding the Rams 39-34 on the night.

Jack Gibbs had his floater game going early, and was especially eager to attack the rim in transition in the opening minutes. But after scoring 10 points in the first eight minutes, Gibbs was hounded by Jared Terrell and limited to deep three-point attempts at the end of the shot clock. After making his first three, Gibbs would miss his last 7. Yet still, Gibbs finished with 17 points and only 1 turnover.

Behind them, Brian Sullivan extended his streak of games with a made three to 43 games, the second longest streak in the nation with a trio of threes on way to 9 points. Rusty Reigel also continued his trend of do-it-all games with 8 rebounds and 6 assists. Nathan Ekwu added 11 rebounds and 4 blocks in yet another impressive defensive outing. All five Wildcat starters played 34 minutes or more tonight.

URI cut Davidson’s lead to 5 at the start of the second half but could never put together a run to cut into the Wildcat lead further. Despite many students in attendance for Black Out Belk, the arena was largely subdued due to the slow pace of the game. But Davidson was able to prevent the Rams from picking up any momentum and built their lead all the way back up to 16 with 3:05 to play after a 9-0 run sealed the deal.

Davidson went up 18-4 at the start of the game with a 15-0 run over a six minute span, with Aldridge and Gibbs combining to score every one of those points. From there, the pace of the game dramatically slowed. Davidson held the Rams to 33.3% shooting for the half and went into the locker room leading 32-24.

The offensive focal point for Rhode Island in the early going was Hassan Martin. A year ago against Davidson, Martin had a monster 17 point, 16 rebound, 5 block game. After two buckets on early post-ups from Martin, Davidson sent a double-team at him whenever he caught the ball in the post and from there held him without another basket. However, Martin did sit the entire second half with knee tendinitis aggravated during the first half.

Without Martin on the floor, the Rams, many people’s pick for preseason favorite, were starved for offensive production. Not one player had scored double digit points until there were under three minutes to play in the game. Hammered by the season-ending injury to star E.C. Matthews in the opening game of the season, Rhode Island has struggled to stay afloat. With this loss, they fell below .500 in the conference.

Five players from the NFC Champion Carolina Panthers were in attendance, sitting courtside and cheering on the Wildcats. Devin Funchess, Shaq Thompson, Ryan Delaire, Dean Marlowe and Lou Young earned loud applause when acknowledged by the fans midway through the first half.

Davidson has three conference games to play before the Atlantic 10 Tournament. They travel to Fordham this weekend and will head to VCU before returning home March 5 for Senior Night against George Washington.

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VCU outpaces Davidson

Atlantic 10-leading VCU (15-5, 8-0 in A-10) raced out to a huge lead in the first half and withstood a surge from Davidson to topple the Wildcats (12-7, 4-4 in A-10) 79-69. After trailing by as many as 22, Davidson cut the lead to 2 before a late 15-2 run from the Rams sealed the deal. The loss ends Davidson’s 15 game home win-streak and is only their second home loss in their last 32 games.

Davidson, who came into the game with the lowest turnover rate in all of D-1 basketball met their match against VCU’s vaunted Havoc defense. VCU forced 16 turnovers and applied constant pressure which sped Davidson up. It was a far cry from VCU’s visit a year ago when Davidson was able to get out ahead of their press and attack. While they still had 12 turnovers in that, they blew the Rams out 82-55.

Jack Gibbs showed the best and worst of his game tonight. Before he had even scored his first point, he had accumulated 6 turnovers, twelve minutes into the game. He had even earned a rare seat next to the coaches for a brief period. But when Gibbs got on the board he caught fire quickly. Gibbs would finish with 37 points on 7-13 shooting from deep, his 7th 30 point performance of the year. However, late turnovers, including a poorly timed errant behind-the-back pass led to back-breaking VCU points.

The game didn’t start well for Davidson. Six minutes in, Melvin Johnson already had 12 points as his Rams led 18-5, with 9 of those points coming off Davidson turnovers. VCU used an 18-2 run to build a 22 point lead as Davidson went more than 8 minutes without a field goal. The Wildcats were ice cold, beginning 2-17 from the field. But Davidson finished the half with an 11-0 run, including two three-pointers in the final five seconds of the half, to cut the lead to 38-28 at halftime.

After lacking energy for much of the first half, Davidson came alive and started making shots and fighting for loose balls. VCU steadied the early pressure and stretched their lead back up to 53-38 with under 13 to play. Davidson cut to single digits once again with a three from Sullivan at 9:49. A Jack floater followed by an Andrew McAuliffe dunk then cut it to 5 as the volume inside the sold-out Belk Arena crescendoed with just over eight minutes left. A step-back three from Gibbs got it to 57-55 with 6:49 to play. But VCU would answer with a 15-2 run and close out the game from the free throw line.

VCU was led by 23 points from JeQuan Lewis and 21 from Melvin Johnson, aided by an impressive 18 point, 11 rebound game from NFL-ready Mo Alie-Cox. His domination on the glass helped the Rams to a 45-26 advantage in rebounding.

Davidson returns to the court Wednesday night at George Washington.

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Another 43 From Gibbs Helps Davidson Outlast UMass

Davidson (11-5, 3-2 in A-10) earned a hard-fought 86-74 win over UMass  (8-9, 1-4 in A-10) Saturday afternoon in Belk Arena. Once again hampered by injuries to key players, Jack Gibbs and Peyton Aldridge stepped up to will Davidson past the Minutemen. Gibbs finished with a career-high 43 points, his third 40-point effort of the season.

Despite the UMass defense being keyed in on stopping Gibbs, the junior guard still managed to command the game and make yet another 40-point game look easy. Though he had to work tirelessly to touch the ball, he put together another standout performance, finishing with 43 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists. With two defenders on him for most of the game, he found teammates instead of forcing shots that weren’t there. When Davidson needed a bucket to flip the momentum, Gibbs found a way to get it. A three in traffic with 3:05 to play was his biggest shot, restoring the Wildcats’ lead. He was also 15-16 from the free throw line.

“It’s like the great U.S. Air Pilot Sully Sullenberger,” said Coach Bob McKillop with regards to Gibbs’s continued stellar play. “He’s about ready to crash a plane – how’d he become a hero? He went to his checklist. He stayed in the system. He did exactly what he was trained to do. And he became a hero because he did that. Jack is trained. Jack works his tail off in practice and it was evident today, because he went to his checklist and stayed in the system. He landed our plane.”

“He’s gone from being a flight attendant to a co-pilot to a pilot,” continued McKillop about Gibbs’s growth as a player. “Jack was in a different seat today and he has been in a different seat this year, where the responsibility is always on his shoulders. That was a difficult thing for him to make the transition from one seat to the other seat.”

With Brian Sullivan sitting with an ankle injury and Jordan Barham clearly hampered by his knee injury and limited to only 4 minutes, Davidson needed a big game from Peyton Aldridge. And they got it, with Aldridge posting his second double-double of the season, with 14 points and 12 rebounds. The sophomore was noticeably vocal with his teammates, making sure everyone was on the same page at each break in the action and imploring them to keep the pressure up at times. Though he struggled with his shot in the first half, he knocked down a couple big buckets in the second half. The importance of Aldridge’s versatility and ability to relieve pressure with his ball-handling cannot be overstated given Davidson’s recent injuries. Crucially, he also stayed out of foul trouble, and played every single minute of the second half.

Rusty Reigel had the best offensive game of his young career, hitting all three of his shots off the bench, including two second half threes to finish with 10 points. He also hit both of his huge free throws to give Davidson a 5 point lead with 2:47 to play. He has provided tremendous energy off the bench in recent games, but this offensive production was a huge boost. His previous career high for points was only 3, so for him to step up and confidently knock down pressure shots speaks volumes to his makeup.

“I thought our bench has really grown up,” said McKillop, referencing the 16-6 advantage in bench points, led by Reigel’s 10. “You may remember me sitting in this room a month ago and lamenting the fact that we were always at the disadvantage there – that we were not getting enough production. And I think our bench has grown.”

Two straight Donte Clark threes put UMass ahead 69-67 with 4:11 to play after Davidson had led nearly the entire second half to that point. But Andrew McAuliffe answered immediately after with a nifty post move to ignite a 10-0 run for the Wildcats, with Davidson regaining the lead on Gibbs’s triple and stretching the lead back to 8 with 1:43 to play.

The game was a cagey foul fest for the first half but came to life in the second. UMass applied full court pressure nearly the entire game and aggressively fought through the screens as Davidson ran their offense. It wasn’t until after the intermission that both teams were able to attack in transition. From that point, these looked much more like the high-powered offenses we were expecting to see.

The Minutemen were unafraid to shoot today. Trey Davis himself took 23 shots, including 15 from deep and finished with 30 points. Donte Clark, who had been averaging 20 points in conference play thus far, had missed his first 6 from deep before knocking down two in a row.

UMass began the game ice cold from the field. They missed their first 11 triples but shot out of their struggles.  Davidson used a 12-2 run to build an eleven point lead, but the Minutemen countered with a 10-0 run and gained the lead shortly before the half. Davis heated up in the final minutes of the half with three straight threes, which helped send the Minutemen to the locker room with a 1-point lead despite Gibbs’s 18 first half points.

Davidson will be on the road their next two games, at Saint Louis on Wednesday night and at Richmond Saturday afternoon on NBCSN. They next return to Belk Arena in a Friday night showdown with conference power VCU on the 29th.

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2016 Atlantic 10 Primer & Predictions

A year after getting three teams into the NCAA Tournament, the Atlantic 10 has a challenge on its hands to get back to that number. With help from statistics from Kenpom.com, I bring you my predictions ahead of the beginning of Atlantic 10 conference play, which begins tomorrow afternoon at noon. The teams are in reverse order of how I think they will finish.

14. George Mason (6-7). Best Wins – neutral vs. Ole Miss, neutral vs. Oklahoma State.  Worst Losses – home vs. Colgate, at Manhattan. Player to Watch – Shevon Thompson (9.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg) – Thompson remains a rebounding machine and a menace on defense but his offensive game has not developed the way the Patriots needed it to. He has six straight single-digit scoring games since two monster double-doubles in their big wins in November.

After an impressive showing in the Charleston Classic raised expectations a little bit, the team has struggled. They go as Thompson goes, as there aren’t many shooters on the roster. It’s still a young group, so under new coach Dave Paulsen, they’ve got a lot of room to grow. But this might be another long year. Defensively, they are dead last in Division 1 basketball in forcing turnovers, which puts significant pressure on their halfcourt offense.

13. Fordham (9-2).  Best Wins – none. Worst Losses – home vs. Boston College. Player to Watch – Joseph Chartouny (14.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg) – while the freshman is by no means their go-to option, he looks to be capable of scoring bursts. With last year’s star Eric Paschall gone to Villanova, Chartouny has a chance to be a real impact newcomer.

Fordham may have an eye-catching record, but that tells us absolutely nothing. Certainly do not make a lot of Fordham as A-10 champion bets. None of their 9 wins have come against a top-200 team. So while their defensive numbers look impressive at this point, I’m going to ignore most of that until they prove they can handle better teams. As a team, they shoot the ball well, so maybe they are improved from a year ago. Mandell Thomas has looked good as the primary scorer, but he must prove his no show against Boston College in their last outing was merely an off day.

12. Saint Louis (5-7). Best Wins – home vs. North Florida. Worst Losses – home vs. Tennessee Martin. Player to Watch – Milik Yarbrough (10.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg) – Yarbrough is one of four Billikens averaging double figures. A year ago, his play in conference games came and went with alarming inconsistency. There are few signs he is settling down, but he is touching the ball more than anyone else. Perhaps that will help bring composure to a struggling offense.

Saint Louis has the nation’s 319th best offense. They turn the ball away like it’s their job and grab almost no offensive rebounds. They have no go-to scorer. Yet despite their losing record, they might be an improved basketball team from a year ago as evidenced by the way they’ve been able to stay in most of their losses this season. Games against Louisville, Wichita State and Kansas State have the Billikens prepared for conference play. The question is whether they’ll be able to score enough points to win many games. I’m thinking not. One thing to watch is their ability to get to the free throw line. Guard Miles Reynolds has figured out that might be the best way to score.

11. La Salle (4-6). Best Wins – None. Worst Losses – home vs. Drexel, home vs. Hofstra. Player to Watch – Jordan Price (22.6 ppg) – after starting the year with three straight efforts of 27 of more points, the preseason all-conference selection has struggled. His 6 point, 4 rebound game against Miami is simply not good enough for a player of his calibre.

La Salle has fallen off big time from a year ago. Without Steve Zack, the defense has fallen from one of the best in the country to one of the worst, showing an inability to rebound. A school-record 46-point loss at home against Miami just before Christmas does not suggest this team is improving as the year goes along either. If they hope to bounce back in A-10 play, the Explorers will need someone to help Price carry the load. He alone cannot drag this team to mediocrity.

10. Duquesne (10-3). Best Wins – home vs. Penn State. Worst Losses – neutral vs. Pepperdine. Player to Watch – Micah Mason (16.1 ppg) – the veteran guard has quietly been among the top shooters in the A-10 since he arrived from Drake before his sophomore season. This year has been no exception, as he is above 42% from deep shooting a high volume. He has scored in double-figures in 12 of their 13 games and has twice gone off for 25+.

While it might look from their record that Duquesne has made a dramatic step up from a year ago, don’t be sold on their being a much improved team. At least not yet. While the win over Penn State was nice, none of their wins have come against teams with legitimate NCAA Tournament hopes. While the Dukes can shoot the ball, their defense is as leaky as it has been in the past, and opponents are shooting an insane 41.9% from 3. They have improved on the interior, but they need to figure out how to defend the arc if they want to compete night in and night out in the conference. Their first three conference games will offer a stern test. They welcome Dayton before traveling to Davidson and George Washington. If they win even one of those games, it might be time to pay attention.

9. UMass (7-5). Best Wins – neutral vs. Clemson, at Harvard. Worst Losses – at Florida Gulf Coast. Player to Watch – Trey Davis (19.5 ppg) – after showing flashes of brilliance against the bottom of the league a year ago, the senior has taken his offensive game to the next level this season. Although he has fewer assists this year, he has increased his scoring load, shooting higher percentages than he did a year ago.

Not much was expected from the Minutemen, but after a 5-0 start, some were wondering if they were a better basketball team than we gave them credit for. However, losses in 3 of their last 5 have cooled expectations again, and in conference play, 6 wins might be the goal. Davis and sophomore Donte Clark are scorers with the best of them, and might be capable of single-handedly winning a game or two. One strength of this team is its perimeter defense, as they have held opponents to only 28% shooting from 3. Though there aren’t many weaknesses, there also aren’t many strengths beyond that.

8. St. Bonaventure (8-3). Best Wins – home vs. Vermont. Worst Losses – at Siena. Player to Watch – Marcus Posley (17.0 ppg) – best known for his back-to-back buzzer beaters last year, the senior guard has taken on more of a scoring load, playing just about every minute. His 35-point outing against Canisius was one of the best performances in the A-10 so far.

The Bonnies are squarely in the middle of the pack, but have potential to surprise. They have three primetime scorers. However, behind them, the roster is very thin. An injury would be crippling to Posley, Dion Wright or Jaylen Adams. But should this team stay healthy, they can compete with anyone, as evidenced by the way they stuck with Syracuse for long periods of time in their November encounter. Their free throw shooting as a team is extraordinary (78.5%) and they have a ton of experience, so don’t expect them to lose many close games. Defensively, they have forced a lot of turnovers but have struggled to replace the rebounding of Youssou N’Doye.

7. VCU (8-5). Best Wins – home vs Old Dominion. Worst Losses – at Georgia Tech. Player to Watch – Melvin Johnson (18.3 ppg) – Johnson likes to shoot. When he catches fire, watch out. Ask Florida State, whom he torched for 36 points. But his desire to shoot his way out of a bad night can have negative effects. Against Georgia Tech, in a 6-point loss, he kept shooting all the way to an 0-11 showing. He is unafraid to pull the trigger, but needs to know when to let teammates take the shots.

Everyone was worried about VCU after Shaka Smart left for Texas. But Will Wade has kept the same system in place with many of the same players from last year, so there has not been that big of a dropoff. They miss the production and composure of Treveon Graham especially on the offensive end. Mo Alie-Cox has been disappointing, but a 19-point effort from him in their final non-conference tuneup bodes well for the Rams, who desperately need his production inside so that the shooters can have space. They have the second highest steal rate in the country, which allows them to get into transition easily, but there are a lot of veteran guards in the A-10 that will slow games down. I don’t believe they have the offensive talent necessary to win games in the halfcourt. Don’t expect a big run from VCU this year.

6. Rhode Island (8-5). Best Wins – home vs. Iona. Worst Losses – at Nebraska. Player to Watch – Hassan Martin (11.9 ppg, 2.6 bpg) – the first-team preseason all-conference selection just picked up an ankle injury which will sideline him two weeks. But when he returns, he needs to be better. Last year he was a beast on the glass, but this year he’s averaging only 5.4 a game. He also needs to do a better job staying on the court, as foul trouble has limited his minutes. The Rams won’t match their potential unless Martin plays up to his.

URI has the most talented roster in the conference. But 10 minutes into the season, all-conference guard E.C. Matthews went down with a season-ending injury. And nobody has stepped up. Incoming transfer Kuran Iverson has shown flashes of his talent in recent games, but hasn’t been consistent. Jered Terrell has completely lost his shooting ability. It took overtime for the Rams, many people’s preseason pick to win the conference, to beat Brown on Wednesday night. But despite all that, they still have the talent to make a run at a conference title. If Martin and Iverson can get going together, they will destroy teams on the glass. Free throw shooting is going to be a problem down the road, but they need to figure things out first.

5. Davidson (8-3). Best Wins – none. Worst Losses – none. Player to Watch – Jack Gibbs (24.6 ppg) – the junior guard has been the A-10’s best player this season. He has already had point totals of 35, 41, 37 and 41 and can score at will when teams guard him with only one man. But the fear is he is trying to do too much against the better teams, especially when Davidson has struggled early. His turnovers have been way up in recent weeks. Expect him to be A-10 Player of the Year. But his turnover to assist ratio might be more important to Davidson’s ultimate success than his points.

Coming off a conference title in their maiden campaign, Davidson has been hit hard by injuries. Already thin, they have lost three scholarship players to season-ending injuries. Gibbs has been spectacular, but in the three games against higher-calibre opposition, the over-reliance on him has become apparent in blowout losses. Peyton Aldridge and Brian Sullivan have offered glimpses off their all-conference talent, but have lacked the consistency from behind the arc needed so that teams can’t put two on Gibbs at all times. With the frontcourt thin once again, sophomore Nathan Ekwu has to take another step up, especially on the glass where they have struggled. The Wildcats have the offensive talent to play postseason basketball, but they d0 not have the depth to withstand another injury. With even one more injury, they could fall all the way to 7th or 8th in the conference.

4.  St. Joseph’s (10-2). Best Wins – at Temple, home vs. Old Dominion. Worst Losses – none. Player to Watch – DeAndre’ Bembry (16.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg) – Bembry was the talk of the conference heading into his junior season. Though he has been a consistent scorer and has improved defensively, he has not been quite as good as many hoped. With Isaiah Miles stealing some of the spotlight, Bembry has not had to be at his best. But he needs to be there soon if St. Joe’s wants to make a run.

The success of St. Joe’s has been a surprise for the Atlantic 10. Everybody knew Bembry was good, but few foresaw Miles having 35 point, 15 rebound games like he did against Virginia Tech. That duo might just be the best in the conference. Though the Hawks don’t force many turnovers, their defense has been a strength. The achilles heel might be their three-point shooting, as they shoot only 30.4% as a team. However, one thing working in their favor is their conference schedule. After a tough opener at Richmond, they have it relatively easy. They only have to play Dayton, VCU, George Washington, Davidson and Richmond once. Of the six other top teams, they only play URI twice. Don’t be shocked if St. Joe’s ends up as a bubble team come Tournament time.

3. George Washington (11-2). Best Wins – home vs. Virginia, home vs. Seton Hall. Worst Losses – at DePaul. Player to Watch –Patricio Garino (12.8 ppg) – Garino’s leadership at the guard spot might be more important than his scoring. The Colonials go as their senior guard goes. They played their best basketball in November when he was scoring 18 a night. Since then, his numbers have dropped. An 0-8 outing against DePaul resulted in his team being blown out. With so much talent on the roster, GW needs consistency from Garino.

George Washington owns the conference’s most impressive victory – a win over #3 Virginia back in November. For that, they earned national attention. Come March, their resume will look really good. But they looked just as good a year ago with a largely similar roster before falling apart in conference play. Tyler Cavanaugh and Kevin Larsen form a fearsome duo in the paint and are complemented nicely by slashers. 3-point shooting, which was a big weakness last year, has slightly improved, but only Yuta Watanabe and Garino are threats. They open with four cupcakes in conference play before a hugely important trip to Dayton. Win that game, and the Colonials will be the favorite going forward.

2. Richmond (8-4). Best Wins – neutral vs. Cal, home vs. Northern Iowa. Worst Losses – home vs. James Madison. Player to Watch – Terry Allen (19.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg) – the senior forward would be right behind Gibbs at the moment for player of the season. A 34 point, 14 rebound performance in the upset victory over Cal has been the highlight of the season, but Allen has been there every night. He has done a great job of getting to the free throw line, where he makes 78.6% (he was 17-21 against Cal).

After a puzzling season opening loss at home to James Madison, Richmond rebounded with vengeance. This upperclassmen-led team is one of the best in the country offensively. Few teams have the frontcourt depth to defend both Allen and TJ Cline. Shawndre’ Jones has been a beneficiary of the attention those two take, as he is shooting a career-best 43.9% from deep. Nobody wants to face the Spiders right now. Home and homes with George Washington and Davidson will go a long way towards determining Richmond’s fate. But they could make a serious run for the conference crowd and a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

1. Dayton (10-2). Best Wins – neutral vs. Iowa, at Vanderbilt. Worst Losses – home vs. Chattanooga. Player to Watch – Dyshawn Pierre (11.0 ppg) – after a very public suspension from school following a sexual assault allegation, Pierre won his way back onto the roster and played his first game of the season on Wednesday. The versatile forward brings a lot to the table, demonstrated by the way he led a thin-roster to the NCAA Tournament a year ago. He needs practice and game time right now. But watch out for the impact he has in February and March.

Dayton was voted the favorite to win the conference in the preseason and nothing has changed after an impressive non-conference performance that included two huge wins. They will only get better as Pierre can be reintroduced into the lineup. Archie Miller’s squad lacks a conference player of the year candidate, but they might be better for it. A very balanced attack has resulted. Defensively, they have wreaked havoc on opposition with their length. Though the key contributors are young, this might be their best chance at an extended run in the NCAA Tournament should Miller move on to greener pastures.

Over the course of the conference season, I will provide updates and analysis periodically. Follow me on Twitter (@Klaus_Faust) for regular A-10 basketball coverage, and check back for write-ups of Davidson basketball games.

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Gibbs, Sullivan and Barham lead the Wildcats past EWU in the Gotham Classic

Jack Gibbs was among three Davidson scorers with 20 points or more in the Wildcats’ 96-86 victory over Eastern Washington in the Gotham Classic. The junior guard, fifth in the nation in scoring average thus far, had yet another stellar performance finishing with 37 points, already his third game of the season with 35 or more.

“I look up at the scoreboard and I see he’s got 37 points. Pretty good” said Coach Bob McKillop after the game with a laugh. “Jack needs to just play within the system, and the system and he will be a great marriage. He’s got extraordinary ability. He’s crafty. He’s got great feel, great touch, terrific vision, outstanding wrists, long arms. He’s powerful, strong, gets fouled, makes foul shots, can knock down the three. He’s got a lot of things going for him.”

The way things have been going for Jack Gibbs, it was no surprise to see his off-balance three go in off the glass at the halftime buzzer, giving him 23 for the first half alone, hitting 4 of 5 from deep. With all eyes of the EWU defense on him in the second half, and a double-team sent at him at almost every touch, he helped create good looks for Brian Sullivan and Jordan Barham to stretch their lead. He finished 12-17 from the field and 6-9 from deep with 6 rebounds, 6 assists and only 1 turnover to go along with his 37 points.

“If there are two people on me, then someone’s open,” offered Gibbs on the added attention he was getting in the second half. “I’m trying to get open passing lanes, because once it comes out of my hand, we’ve got four on three and I’m taking us over pretty much anybody in the country.”

Sullivan, who was held to just 3 first half points on 1-5 shooting, hit 5 second half threes on his way to 22 points for the night. His three triples in the span of 105 seconds stretched Davidson’s lead to 20 with 9:06 remaining and built momentum the Wildcats would not relinquish. Also notable was the perimeter defense Sullivan played on the streaky Australian shooter Felix von Hofe.

Eastern Washington, an NCAA Tournament team a year ago out of the Big Sky, came out in a matchup zone, pressuring the Davidson ball handlers and ratcheting up the tempo. Whenever they could run at the basket, they did so with purpose. Austin McBroom, who played against Davidson a year ago with Saint Louis and scored a single point that night, led the Eagles with 33 points.

Davidson looked inside to Jordan Barham to attack the interior of the zone, and the senior had his best game of the young season, finishing with 22, a career high, on 8-11 shooting with 8 rebounds. With the attention on Gibbs the ballhandler, Gibbs was able to find Barham with some nifty looks around the basket when he could draw the baseline defenders up. Barham, who also hit first triple of the year, had the majority of his shots right at the rim.

Nathan Ekwu played some big minutes off the bench tonight, earning chants of his name from the students in attendance. Ekwu, in his second season, played his best game as a Wildcat, providing tremendous energy with 4 emphatic blocks, 9 points and 6 rebounds. Forced to step up due to a thinning frontcourt, Ekwu helped limit one of the nation’s most efficient big man in Australian Venky Jois. He also attacked more on the offensive end than he has been and saw good results.

“I thought [Ekwu’s presence in the paint] was one of the biggest things of tonight.” said McKillop. “He’s starting to understand his role and I thought he played it exceptionally well tonight.”

Despite the fast pace, it was a relatively low scoring game for these two teams until Gibbs got going midway through the first half and helped Davidson gain the lead on an 8-0 run. The Wildcats found their shooting rhythm and stretched the lead to 47-39 at the break.

Davidson, who struggled on the glass in the loss at North Carolina on Sunday, were outrebounded 32-30. That continues to be an area they’ll need to improve going forward. With Jake Belford out at least another game with a concussion, Davidson will need everyone to chip in.

The Gotham Classic consists of five teams, who each play the other four over the course of December. Davidson will face Pittsburgh in a Gotham Classic matchup in Madison Square Garden on December 23rd. But before then, Davidson will host former SoCon opponent Western Carolina in a Gotham Classic game on Saturday at 7pm.

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