Davidson hosted a very talented #6 UNC team at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, ultimately falling 90-72. The lower bowl was close to full with roughly equal amounts of Davidson and UNC fans, but Davidson fans were making most of the noise in the early going.
However, on the court, it was UNC whose play did the talking. Davidson got off to a fast start, with Peyton Aldridge ’18 hitting a couple triples in the opening minutes, but after the first media timeout, UNC locked down on defense and Davidson had trouble getting shots up, much less good shots.
UNC’s size proved a problem for the Wildcats on both ends of the court as Kennedy Meeks (19 points, 12 rebounds) and Brice Johnson feasted on the size differential, getting easy buckets on the offensive end and altering shots on the other end. Meeks in particular was impressive for the Tar Heels, going 9-13 from the field and also chipping in a pair of blocks. On the perimeter, UNC’s guards were using their length to close out every Davidson shooter immediately. As a result, Davidson shot a season-low 30% from 3 and were quite limited with what they could do offensively.
The Davidson player who shone the brightest today was Aldridge, the freshman from Leavittsburgh, Ohio, who finished with a career high 25 points (6-10 from deep) and 6 rebounds . He was active on both ends of the floor, but excelled on offense, where he looked to attack from the opening tip. He was remarkably poised for a freshman, and considering the circumstances, his performance today was excellent.
Defensively, Davidson did okay given the quality of opposition. Rebounding wasn’t as big an issue as it could have been, as everybody chipped in to box out the UNC big’s. However, Davidson wasn’t able to disrupt the rhythm of national player of the year candidate Marcus Paige, who was able to create quality shots for his teammates, and for himself when he wanted to.
After Davidson had hung around for the opening quarter of the game, where UNC pulled ahead was when Davidson let them get out on the break midway through the first half. When the Wildcats were careless with the ball, or took a bad shot, UNC were down the floor in a hurry. Their athleticism was unlike anything Davidson has seen this year, and UNC took advantage of any hesitancy or indecision.
The second half was much of the same for UNC, who looked comfortable throughout. J.P. Tokoto put an exclamation point on the victory with a ridiculous alley-oop in the final minutes, showing off the athleticism that plagued Davidson all day.
UNC’s defense locked in on Brian Sullivan ’16 and Tyler Kalinoski ’15 throughout and didn’t allow them much space to shoot. Because the Tar Heels didn’t double team anyone on the block, they were able to stick on Davidson’s two best scorers and prevent them from getting going. While Sullivan and Kalinoski did take a number of shots, they were rarely clean looks at the basket. The two captains found other ways to contribute today, but without their scoring, Davidson was always going to have a hard time.
From today’s game, it became clear that Davidson needs to focus on developing their inside-out game over the next month of non-conference play. When UNC didn’t have to worry about anyone scoring on the post, or anyone driving the lane, they stuck to Davidson’s shooters like glue as good Atlantic 10 teams will. Sure, the Wildcats didn’t shoot their best from deep, and to an extent, this team will always live and die by the three against teams like UNC. But they missed the 3’s today because they weren’t always good looks. To get those, the Wildcats need to find ways to get the ball inside more effectively. Davidson has the shooters to compete on a high level, but the offense isn’t quite there yet this year.
I spoke with Brice Johnson in the locker room after the game and he spoke quite highly of Aldridge, saying that he thought players like Aldridge would ensure a smooth transition into the Atlantic 10. (Unfortunately, my audio recorder malfunctioned, so that’s why I don’t have direct quotes).
Davidson’s next game is a trip to UCF on Wednesday night.