(Written for The Davidsonian in my capacity as sports editor. I will post everything I write on this blog as well as on Davidsonian.com)
Davidson Men’s Basketball opened their 2014-2015 campaign with an 83-56 win over Division II foe Lenoir-Rhyne at Belk Arena in an exhibition game. This was the first time the Wildcats took the new-look floor marked with the Atlantic 10 logos below the free-throw line, and after a sluggish first half, Davidson looks ready for the new challenge.
Trailing 33-30 at the break, The Wildcats got going in the second half thanks to improved play from guards Tyler Kalinoski ’15 and Brian Sullivan ’16. The two captains were each held to a lone field goal in the first half, but at the first media timeout of the second half, they’d combined for 9 points to swing the game in the Wildcats favor. Once the Wildcats got going in transition by forcing turnovers, they were able to find a rhythm in a hurry, building a 20 point lead less than 11 minutes after halftime. Overall, the Wildcats shot 65% in the second half.
Jack Gibbs ’17 was the undisputed star of the day for Davidson, scoring 26 points on an array of 3’s and drives, going 8-10 from the field. The sophomore guard, named a team captain this year, looks a much improved player from a year ago, showing off a new level of confidence on the court. The sophomore had his head up at all times in transition and was able to pick the right times to drive and when to kick. Off the ball, he was lights out from deep, knocking down 5-6 from behind the arc. He seems to have made the next step from a successful freshman season.
The Wildcats had struggled in the first half, shooting a mere 35% from the field in the half – including only 4-14 from inside the arc as Lenoir-Rhyne led for the majority of the half. Were it not for 15 first half points from Gibbs, Lenoir-Rhyne would have held a larger lead than the 3 point advantage they took into the break. The Bears dominated the offensive glass in the first half – they had 8 offensive rebounds – despite starting no players taller than 6’6”. That will be worrying for Coach Bob McKillop, who will certainly know that the Wildcats will need to find ways to rebound effectively despite the lack of size the Wildcats have up front.
Potentially even more so than in years past, Davidson’s offense looked especially reliant on the 3-ball in the early going. Every single one of the starters is looking to shoot, and from the first possession tonight – a Jake Belford ’16 triple deep into the shot clock – it became clear the Wildcats are going to be shooting a lot of 3’s this year. Only when Jordan Barham entered the game midway through the first half did anyone look to drive in the half-court offense.
But the real strength of this team will be transition offense. Gibbs and Kalinoski are pests defensively – each had 3 steals today – and every time they force a turnover, the Wildcats will be a threat. Gibbs has the speed to get up court in a hurry, and his ability to drive will force opposing defenses to back off Davidson’s shooters. That is where the ‘Cats will be the most dangerous. Spot up Sullivan, Kalinoski or Gibbs, and they will knock it down with regularity.
One question that looks to be answered is who is going to start at the 4. It appears the answer is freshman Peyton Aldridge. The Leavittsburg, Ohio product was active throughout, looking to shoot early on, and battling down low. He and the rest of the Wildcats struggled rebounding the ball in the first half, but he played much better in the second half, finishing with 11 points.
Nathan Ekwu ’18 also looks ready to contribute right away. The freshman forward from Nigeria is a major physical presence already, sending one Lenoir-Rhyne attempt back in impressive fashion. He grabbed eight boards off the bench, which helped the Wildcats limit the Bears on the board in the second half. He will need time to acclimate, but he will be a big part of the Davidson bench this year from day one, igniting the crowd with highlight plays on both ends.
Now done with preseason play, the Wildcats begin the regular season Saturday at 2 pm against Catholic at Belk Arena. A date with #6 UNC looms on the 22nd, so the Wildcats will be looking to get off to a fast start in preparation for the contest at Time Warner Cable Arena.