(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)
Not playing their best on the road against tough Atlantic 10 competition, Davidson found another gear in the final minutes with their backs against the wall. Down 59-57 with under four to play, The Wildcats used a late run to beat UMass 71-63 in Amherst to improve to 12-3, and 3-1 in the A-10.
A lot didn’t go Davidson’s way tonight. The Wildcats shot only 41.3% from the field in one of its worst offensive performances of the year. They made just 7 of 29 from deep and also committed an uncharacteristic amount of turnovers in the halfcourt. Jack Gibbs ’17 was suffering from strep throat. And the Minutemen had a huge advantage in height, which led to 13 offensive rebounds and a 41-36 rebounding advantage.
Yet despite all that, it was Davidson that left the court looking like a true contender. Coach Bob McKillop elected to go small in the final minutes, with Davidson trailing by a couple points. The lineup had 6′ 7” Peyton Aldridge ’18 at the five and 6’4” Jordan Barham ’16 at the four. The captain trio of guards, Gibbs, Tyler Kalinoski ’15 and Brian Sullivan ’16, rounded out the group. These five went to a 1-3-1 defensively and helped limit UMass, who also struggled shooting all game as well. Whenever UMass got an offensive board, one of the Wildcats was in there to strip it and go the other way. One crucial play came when Kalinoski got a strip and drove the length of the court for an and-1 that gave Davidson a four-point lead with just 3:17 to play.
That lineup also hit the offensive glass hard in the final minutes, and bought extra shots and precious time off the clock with hard-fought boards. Kalinoski had two such rebounds in the final three minutes. UMass didn’t have an answer for this last bit of pressure, and gave up with 28 seconds to play, down only 8 because of Davidson’s free-throw shooting abilities. Rarely do you see a newcomer given that much respect.
Davidson had a balanced scoring attack tonight. Sullivan led the way with 14 points, the lowest amount scored by a Davidson leading scorer in a game this year. But Gibbs, Aldridge and Kalinoski each had 13. Aldridge added nine rebounds and three blocks, while Kalinoski added six assists and five steals.
McKillop will see this game for what it was – a mid-week, on the road, grind-it-out type game. With Gibbs not at his best due to illness, it was always going to be a tough matchup. But McKillop will be tremendously happy to return to Davidson with a victory. Today was the first game since UVA when Davidson’s lack of size hurt, but it was notable that Aldridge stepped up, and others chipped in to help defensively. Davidson continues to show that they are making a serious challenge for an at-large bid this year, and today’s road win is a big step towards that goal.
Up next is another tough road trip on Saturday, this time to Richmond. It will be a match-up of severely contrasting styles of play.