Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports

Davidson Hangs Tough Against #3 Virginia

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(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 (9-2) fell on the road at #3 Virginia 83-72, but the Wildcats made a name for themselves with impressive guard play against the nation’s leading defense. Virginia trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half as Tyler Kalinoski ’14 and Jack Gibbs ’17 excelled for Davidson. But ultimately, it was Virginia’s offensive rebounding that gave them the advantage.

The Wildcats were without Jake Belford ’15 once again today, but after the game it was revealed that he didn’t miss the game with the foot injury that has plagued him this month. Instead, Coach Bob McKillop announced that the forward injured his knee in practice and will likely miss the rest of the season after surgery on a torn meniscus. Jordan Barham ’16 also missed the game due to a concussion.

Without Belford and Barham on the boards, Davidson had to use the inexperienced duo of Peyton Aldridge ’18 and Nathan Ekwu ’18 up front, where they were overmatched by a veteran Virginia core. Virginia, led by double-doubles from Anthony Gill (25 points, 13 rebounds) and Darion Atkins (13 points, 10 rebounds), grabbed 17 offensive rebounds against only 19 defensive rebounds for Davidson. The Cavaliers hit the boards hard, and time after time got second and third chances near the rim.

But for much of the game, the story was Davidson. The Wildcats, led by Gibbs (21 points, 4 assists) and Kalinoski (20 points, 7 rebounds) took a 29-17 lead behind hot shooting and clever offense. Gibbs carved apart the nation’s best defense at times, and continuously got teammates open looks. He shot the ball well from deep and showed off a nifty set of floaters. Gibbs also had only one turnover, despite playing 34 minutes. Gibbs, Kalinoski and their fellow captain Brian Sullivan ’16 combined for 11-19 shooting behind the arc.

Virginia made adjustments offensively in the closing stages of the first half and began attacking the interior of Davidson’s defense, and began inching back into the game. Davidson led 36-32 at halftime, but Virginia took the lead soon after the break as they gained momentum and picked up their intensity. Davidson kept the game close through hot shooting from Sullivan and Gibbs, tying the game at 55 with a corner three, but from there, the Cavaliers pulled away.

Many will say Davidson should be pleased with playing Virginia so close for so many minutes on their home floor, but Coach McKillop will see this game as having both positives and negatives. Davidson can take away that their offense is good enough to compete with anyone nationally, and I mean anyone. Gibbs, Kalinoski and Sullivan are all capable of being first-team all-conference in the A-10.

But today also served as a harsh reality check for life without Belford the rest of the way. Ekwu and Aldridge will have to mature quickly on the defensive end in conference play if Davidson wants to compete for a conference title. Andrew McAuliffe ’17 will need to step up too. He was as good as I’ve ever seen him on the offensive end, showing off some post moves, but he didn’t grab a single rebound in 16 minutes of action.

This team does many things as well as anyone, but they’ll need to figure out how to rebound defensively against bigger teams on the road.

Davidson opens Atlantic 10 play at home against Richmond Saturday night on NBCSN. For a preview of the conference season, check out my conference preview here.

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