(Written for The Davidsonian in my capacity as sports editor.)
Davidson (14-4, 5-2 in A-10) led by as many as 10 early in the second half, but a second half collapse nearly cost them on the road at George Mason (7-12, 1-5 in A-10). However a frantic, late rally and a strong overtime session saw the Wildcats pull out a tough 80-73 win in overtime. George Mason led by six in the final minute after Tyler Kalinoski ’15 had fouled out, but an Oskar Michelsen ’18 three and two missed free throws set the stage for Brian Sullivan’s heroics.
After an airball on the second attempt with 12.1 seconds left, Sullivan brought the ball up the floor and nearly threw the ball away on a dangerous pass to Peyton Aldridge ’18. After getting the ball back from Aldridge, Sullivan pulled up for a contested three to tie the game at the buzzer. Davidson had struggled all game from deep, but this one was money. Suddenly the ‘Cats had life.
The Wildcats shot only 44.6% from the field and struggled from deep in the second half. After an emotional win over nationally ranked Dayton on their home floor, this could have been a massive let down for the Wildcats, one that would have made a run at an at-large bid all the more difficult. Davidson was learning the hard way that life on the road is not easy in the A-10. But Sullivan’s shot changed everything. The junior, whose shot wasn’t falling for much of the second half, finished with 17 huge points and 5 assists sliding over to the point guard spot once again today.
In overtime, the Wildcats had life to their game that hadn’t been there all game. Despite not having Kalinoski on the floor – Jordan Barham ’16 (9 points and 6 rebounds) also fouled out with 2:29 left in OT – Davidson still found a way to get good shots. Michelsen finished what was his best game since the season opener with a strong extra session. The Finnish freshman ended up with a career-high 20 points, including a bunch of key free throws to seal the game.
Without Jack Gibbs ’17 at the point once again due to a knee injury, Davidson looked lost in the half-court late in the second half when the three ball wasn’t falling. The shot clock wound wind down and Kalinoski would have to settle for an off-balance drive or a deep, contested three. The ball was as stagnant as it’s been all year. Davidson also lost its composure on the ball a few times in the second half. Things didn’t look good.
George Mason is the type of team that many thought would give Davidson fits. They’re one of the biggest teams in the country, and they pound the ball down low to their bigs. They own Shevon Thompson, the conference’s best rebounder. Thompson had a huge second half after sitting on the bench with a couple fouls in the first. He finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds, and was a big reason why the Patriots had a 43-35 advantage on the boards.
Kalinoski only had four points at halftime, but the senior knocked down a triple to start the second half and picked up the scoring load. He finished with 18 points and 8 rebounds, but his five fouls were a huge blow to the Wildcats late in the game.
Davidson led 38-31 at the half after a deep buzzer-beating three from George Mason. Both teams started hot from the field, but cooled off considerably as the half wore on. The Patriots had the advantage on the boards, but Davidson got some important points off the bench. The game was tied at 25, but Davidson used a 9-0 run to gain their lead.
Besides Michelsen, the player that stepped up the most today was Jordan Watkins ’18. The freshman guard saw his playing time cut almost entirely when conference play began, but in the two games since Jack Gibbs ’17 got hurt, Watkins has played important minutes. He’s been composed on the ball and his ability to shoot has allowed McKillop to give vital rest to Kalinoski and Sullivan. Few would have expected Watkins to be on the floor at the end of a big conference game and yet there he was, making big buckets in overtime.
Andrew McAuliffe ’17 also got some important minutes today. The sophomore big has improved his play tremendously in recent weeks and has become a much more physical presence on both ends since Jake Belford ’16 got hurt. He picked up a couple of fouls himself today, but when he was in the game, he provided great rebounding. McAuliffe doesn’t score many, but don’t underestimate his contribution to Davidson’s recent success.
Davidson’s freshmen big men struggled today, as Aldridge and Nathan Ekwu ’18 combined for only seven points and three rebounds. It was not a banner day for the duo, who couldn’t handle the physicality of the Patriots front line. This week of rest will do the two some good.
Davidson has a full week to recuperate from this roller-coaster of a game before they return to the court next Saturday at St. Joseph’s. The Hawks have struggled this season, but the trip to Philadelphia will be no easy task.