(Written for The Davidsonian in my capacity as sports editor.)
Davidson (16-6, 7-4 in A-10) wrapped up its three-game homestand with a 92-71 win over George Mason at Belk Arena. Brian Sullivan ’16 led all scorers with 19 points, all of which came in the first half, in a foul-filled encounter in which the Wildcats never trailed.
Davidson came out firing in a big way. On their first five possessions, Davidson hit four threes and a long two, for a 14-4 lead. Sullivan, who had eight points in those opening three minutes, also became the 47th player in program history and the 3rd transfer to reach 1,000 career points with a three late in the first half.
Sullivan and Coach McKillop insisted as the junior captain struggled with his shot for much of non-conference play that the shots would start falling. He was picking his game up in other areas, but the shots just weren’t going. That has since turned around, as Sullivan has found his touch. Coupled with his improved defense and ball-handling – he also had 7 assists tonight – he’s been the Wildcats’ most dynamic player in recent games.
Tyler Kalinoski ’15 scored only four points in the first half, but in his usual fashion, he picked up the scoring load in the second half, finishing with 16 points and 5 rebounds. Kalinoski’s second half surge helped the Wildcats take control as they led 75-47 midway through the half.
George Mason made it a more physical game than Davidson usually plays, with a lot of men attacking the boards and a full-court press most of the game. Wanting to use their size advantage in nearly every matchup, Paul Hewitt’s Patriots attempted to slow the pace and make it a half-court game. The end result was a foul-filled game that never picked up much of a rhythm. And despite the constant pressure, the Wildcats finished with only 2 turnovers in the first half. McKillop won’t be happy with the sloppiness of the second half, but the 5 second half turnovers all came with the Wildcats up big.
Davidson got going whenever the pace quickened and the guards could get out in transition, often utilizing Jordan Barham ’16 as a trailer on the break to great effect. Barham was excellent overall, finishing with 18 points and 6 assists on 5-7 shooting (he also went 5-5 from the stripe). While Davidson knocked down shots, George Mason had trouble getting shots to fall, shooting only 1-7 from deep and a dreadful 10-21 from the free throw line. This has been an issue that’s plagued them all year.
George Mason’s star forward Shevon Thompson is quite simply the best rebounder in the Atlantic 10. He also has developed a post-game this year that made him a much more complete player than many thought when he arrived from junior college this fall. Last time out against Davidson, Thompson had 15 points and 15 rebounds. Tonight, he had 14 points and 12 rebounds, but Davidson was able to force his catches away from the hoop, and made him work for every shot, and he picked up a fourth foul with 15:15 left, forcing him to watch much of the second half from the bench.
With Peyton Aldridge ’18 in foul trouble, Ali Mackay ’15 came in late in the first half and provided a burst of energy. The senior from Scottland has rarely seen the court in meaningful minutes this year, but tonight he made his impact felt, exemplified by a play at the end of the first half. George Mason missed a jump shot with 7 seconds left, which Nathan Ekwu ’18 corralled. Mackay proceeded to beat everyone down the court – collecting a pass from Sullivan at a full sprint, which he calmly turned into a layup as the buzzer sounded. The shot put Davidson up 50-30, and ensured that all the momentum was with the Wildcats as they sprinted into the locker room.
On the whole, this was an impressive performance from a Davidson team that has struggled at times with physical teams like George Mason. With three of the five teams ahead of Davidson in the Atlantic 10 standings losing tonight, Davidson moved to within one game of first place in the conference (there is a four way tie for first now). McKillop will consider this a successful night.
Davidson will look to build off of this two-game win streak when they travel to Philadelphia for a Valentine’s Day contest at La Salle at 2 pm. As high-scoring point guard Jack Gibbs ’17 nears his return, the Wildcats need to keep the momentum going in hopes of earning the at-large NCAA Tournament bid they so crave.