(Written for The Davidsonian in my capacity as sports editor.)
Boosted by the return of leading scorer Jack Gibbs ’17, Davidson (18-6, 9-4 in A-10) ground out a 65-63 against George Washington (17-9, 7-6 in A-10) for a huge resume-boosting win. The Wildcats trailed by 8 at the break, but a huge second half from Jordan Barham ’16 helped Davidson come back despite 8-33 shooting from deep.
On the road in Foggy Bottom, Davidson faced one of its toughest tests of the season against a talented George Washington squad that badly needed a win. After starting 6-1 in the A-10, the Colonials had lost four of five to push them to the edge of the bubble and were pumped up in front of their home crowd.
George Washington used a 13-0 run to take a 24-16 lead late in the first half as Davidson went over seven minutes without a point, and went up by 10 soon after. John Kopriva stepped outside to knock down a couple of triples while his frontcourt mate Kevin Larsen banged inside to great effect. The Wildcats found it difficult to create any sort of offense in the halfcourt, and were guilty of trying to force the ball inside because outside shots weren’t falling. Davidson missed 13 of their last 14 threes in the half. But despite the offensive struggles which produced their lowest scoring half of the season, Davidson only trailed 31-23.
Davidson took the lead almost immediately after the break by opening the second half on a 10-0 run, with eight points coming from Jordan Barham ’16, who sat almost the entire first half with two fouls. His insertion into the game relieved the pressure on Davidson’s shooters as he opened up the drive. Barham was tremendous in the second half as he pounded smaller defenders on the block. He finished with 15 points and 7 rebounds, with every point and all but one of the rebounds coming in the second half.
The game stayed close throughout the second frame. Up two with 22 seconds left, Davidson committed a backcourt violation, a play on which Brian Sullivan ’16 appeared to hurt his knee. The ensuing possession saw the Colonials miss a deep, contested three at the buzzer, with good defense provided by Gibbs on the perimeter.
Tyler Kalinoski ’15 and Sullivan combined to go only 3-19 from three. Kalinoski went 1-9 from the field in the first half, but in usual fashion, he made a couple of big shots in the second half, while finding many other ways to contribute. He finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 3 steals. And Sullivan too overcame his struggles to make a three that gave the ‘Cats a 63-57 lead with 2:20 to go.
Just before the first media timeout, Gibbs entered the game for his first action since January 17. Playing off the ball, the sophomore captain knocked down a three shortly after walking on the court and followed up with another from the corner not a minute later. Some wondered whether he’d need time to reacclimate, but Gibbs wanted to make sure there would be no such issue. His minutes were certainly limited, but he was on the court in the final minutes and finished with 11 points.
The game featured a stark contrast in playing styles. Where Davidson got the ball up the court quickly and looked for quick threes, the Colonials wanted to slow the pace and get the ball inside late in the shot clock. But the pace settled more in George Washington’s favor.
After shortening the rotation to only eight players in recent weeks, Coach Bob McKillop used 10 players tonight in the first half. In addition to Gibbs coming back into the rotation, Ali Mackay ’15 saw early minutes as Davidson tried to counteract George Washington’s advantage inside. But with Gibbs returning in an off-the-ball role, Jordan Watkins ’18 didn’t lose much of the playing time he’s earned in Gibbs’s absence, although Watkins appeared to hurt his shoulder on a foul in the second half.
Davidson will look to extend their winning streak against pesky Fordham on Saturday night in the last home game before the students go on March break.