Many teams in college basketball are going to have to adjust to the 30-second shot clock this year. But as many expected, the rule change looks to be only a positive thing for the Wildcats. With the speed of the game ratcheted up, Davidson was able to get out in transition all day as they cruised past Lenoir-Rhyne 96-64 in their lone exhibition game before the 2015-2016 season.
“A lot of positives to take out of this game. A lot of encouraging signs,” Coach Bob McKillop said after the game. ” I thought we had terrific rhythm today.”
The star of the day was junior Jack Gibbs, who finished with 30 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Taking 21 shots, most if not all within rhythm, the guard seems ready to take on even more responsibilities this year. Before the first media timeout, Gibbs had already chipped in a three, a rebound, an assist, a steal and had taken a charge. Thereafter, he carved through the Lenoir-Rhyne defense time after time. In the halfcourt, once he found his three-point stroke, he piled in the triples in quick succession. 19 of Gibbs’s points came in the more competitive first half.
Brian Sullivan also looked terrific in the backcourt, as he finished with 22 points himself. Without Jordan Barham in the lineup today, it’s hard to know how much of today’s offensive gameplan will apply going forward. But Brian Sullivan’s role included more of the cuts and drives to the basket that Tyler Kalinoski thrived on a year ago. On the day, Sullivan got to the free throw line an astounding 13 times. Considering his high percentage at the line, if he’s attacks like he did today, that can only be a good thing.
“Personally I just want to come out and be more aggressive in many different areas,” said Sullivan. “I think Tyler did a really good job of attacking [last year]. So I just wanted to come out aggressively and attack. The refs are calling things a little tighter. So you have to take advantage of it on offense and on defense you have to be extra careful to show your hands. They’re calling it a little differently this year.”
One noticeable change from last year is the size Davidson is putting on the court. Where last year, an injury to Jake Belford forced the Wildcats to go small for most to the year, starting Peyton Aldridge at the five, Davidson now is able to play Aldridge at the three in certain lineups with Belford back. Today’s starting five of Belford, Aldridge, Sullivan, Gibbs and Oskar Michelsen contained three players 6’7″ or above. And while Belford struggled with his shot in his return to action today, a dunk late in the second half showed that his explosiveness has returned.
Aldridge looked especially comfortable today in his expanded role. Showing off his versatility on both ends, he posted a double-double of 13 points and 14 rebounds. He was the beneficiary of a number of Gibbs’s assists and looked dangerous in the open court. At one point, Aldridge even took over at the point for a possession when Gibbs and Sullivan were on the bench.
Using a 22-2 run to build a big lead within the opening minutes, Davidson was largely on cruise control against the Bears, leading 48-23 at half. While Lenior-Rhyne was able to take advantage of some early-season sloppiness on Davidson’s part to keep the game from getting out of hand, Davidson never let them get too close.
Davidson did not have their best shooting day, shooting 42.6% from the field and 37% from deep, but it hardly mattered with the way they were defending the Bears, who Davidson forced into many bad looks. While the Bears ended up at 37.9% shooting, they were well below that for much of the game.
An area of concern right away is going to be health. In addition to Barham being in a suit, Jordan Watkins and also sat out. Both are questionable for next week. With freshmen Dusan Kovacevic and KiShawn Pritchett both out for the season with knee injuries, the Wildcats are dangerously thin. Especially with Will Magarity sitting out there year due to transfer restrictions, the depth on this team will be tested immediately.
At the moment, Davidson might not have the players to withstand a foul-heavy game. Oskar Michelsen picked up four quick fouls today, but played through the foul trouble, with others needing rest. Getting Barham and Watkins back healthy quickly will be key. Other issues such as the turnovers and the miscommunication on rebounds come with the territory. It was an exhibition game after all. Even the cheerleaders messed up their C-A-T-S cheer in the second half. But you can get bet a lot more will be ironed out before Saturday’s opener.
Early in the first half, Davidson had Andrew McAuliffe, Nathan Ekwu and Aldridge out on the court at once, something I don’t believe they ever did a year ago. The versatility is still there offensively – McAuliffe even stepped up to make a three when this lineup was on the floor – but these bigger lineups should help significantly on defense, where they won’t have to worry so much about mismatches inside.
Besides Gibbs’s strong day, Aldridge’s display of versatility and Belford’s return, some other positives from the day included strong free throw shooting (34-40) and a general smoothness to the offense despite the relatively low shooting percentages. All day, Davidson was able to get good shots, balancing attacks to the basket with its usual barrage of three point shots.
Davidson opens up the season at home to UCF next Saturday night at 7:30. Last time these two teams met, Gibbs scored 37 in a 95-69 rout of the Knights.