(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)
Coming off a tough loss on the road at #20 VCU, Davidson bounced back nicely with a statement 89-54 win over Saint Louis (8-8, 0-3 in A-10) at Belk Arena. The win puts Davidson at 11-3, but more importantly, 2-1 in the Atlantic 10. Davidson led by as many as 38 points late in the second half.
Jordan Barham ’16 (career-high 21 points, 9 rebounds) had the ball in his hands a couple of steps behind the three-point line with 10:30 left in the game. Despite having taken only two threes all year, Barham elected to shoot. As many in the crowd cringed, the ball dropped through the net and Davidson led 66-38. Barham would knock down another triple a few minutes later. It was that type of game for the Wildcats, a game in which little seemed to go wrong.
“When [Barham] comes to play, he’s a huge spark for us,” captain Tyler Kalinoski ’15 said of his fellow guard after the game, “He’s the most athletic guy on the team. He can do so much for us defensively, rebounding wise and offensively, he creates mismatches. When he’s there for forty minutes, our team can sometimes be unstoppable.”
Battling against a Saint Louis defense that likes to limit possessions and force turnovers, Davidson controlled the pace from the opening tip, pushing the ball up the court at every opportunity. Jack Gibbs ’17 and Kalinoski carved through the lane with ease in the half court and found shooters and cutters all over the court. Davidson shot 55.2% overall and 54.5% from deep, besting their mark of 11.2 a game, which ranks second in the nation, with 12 threes today.
Gibbs was relatively quiet on the offensive end in the first half, taking only three shots, but he asserted himself in the second. In addition to his expert passing and vision that continues to lead to open looks for teammates, Gibbs showed off his ability to score off the dribble. Between his floaters and pull-up threes, Gibbs has developed an impressive offensive arsenal. Yet again, Gibbs didn’t turn the ball over despite having it in his hands possession after possession. He finished with 12 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists and 0 turnovers.
Kalinoski continued to do a little bit of everything on both ends of the court, finishing with 11 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. With a transition three midway through the first half, Tyler Kalinoski became the 46th member of the 1,000 point club in Davidson basketball history.
The Wildcats were on fire early, leading 15-4 at the first media timeout behind three Brian Sullivan ’16 triples in the opening three and a half minutes. From there, Davidson used a 26-10 run to stretch the lead to 19 with five minutes left in the first half. But Davidson began to cool off late in the half. And the Billikens used an 11-2 run to cut Davidson’s lead to only 14 at the break.
For Sullivan, who’d been shooting the worst percentages of his career this year, the opening stretch of 14 minutes was one to remember. Sullivan made his first six shots overall, including four threes on his way to scoring 18 points in that stretch. He wouldn’t score the rest of the game, but those opening minutes set the tone for Davidson’s rout.
Saint Louis’s Malik Yarbrough, who came into the game leading the Atlantic 10 in points per game during league play at 22.5, was quiet for the start of the game, but asserted himself against Davidson’s inexperienced post players as the game wore on. Yarbrough finished with 18 points on 7-11 shooting in 26 minutes.
The Billikens struggled offensively when the ball wasn’t in Yarbrough’s hands, missing their first seven three-pointers and 16 of 19 overall. They turned the ball over 9 times, and shot only 13-28 from the free-throw line. For a team that likes to get to the line as much as they do, their abysmal shooting from the charity stripe is almost comical.
The two-time reigning Atlantic 10 regular season champion Billikens lost all five of their starters to graduation this past year and have struggled as a result. They have made the 3rd round of the NCAA Tournament in each of the last three seasons, but it appears 2014-2015 will be the year that ends the streak.
After three ineffective games since Jake Belford’s season-ending injury, Peyton Aldridge ’18 showed signs in the second half that this slump will be brief. He knocked down a couple of threes and fought down low, helping Davidson to a 40-28 advantage on the boards.
“If you ask in our locker-room [how the players feel about the 11-3 start],” said Coach Bob McKillop, “I think you’ll get the response that we’re right on target with where we need to be.”
Davidson travels north to UMass for a Wednesday night game before heading to Richmond on Saturday evening. The Wildcats return home Tuesday the 20th for Black-Out Belk against Dayton.
For continued Atlantic 10 coverage, follow me on Twitter (@Klaus_Faust).