Jack Gibbs was among three Davidson scorers with 20 points or more in the Wildcats’ 96-86 victory over Eastern Washington in the Gotham Classic. The junior guard, fifth in the nation in scoring average thus far, had yet another stellar performance finishing with 37 points, already his third game of the season with 35 or more.
“I look up at the scoreboard and I see he’s got 37 points. Pretty good” said Coach Bob McKillop after the game with a laugh. “Jack needs to just play within the system, and the system and he will be a great marriage. He’s got extraordinary ability. He’s crafty. He’s got great feel, great touch, terrific vision, outstanding wrists, long arms. He’s powerful, strong, gets fouled, makes foul shots, can knock down the three. He’s got a lot of things going for him.”
The way things have been going for Jack Gibbs, it was no surprise to see his off-balance three go in off the glass at the halftime buzzer, giving him 23 for the first half alone, hitting 4 of 5 from deep. With all eyes of the EWU defense on him in the second half, and a double-team sent at him at almost every touch, he helped create good looks for Brian Sullivan and Jordan Barham to stretch their lead. He finished 12-17 from the field and 6-9 from deep with 6 rebounds, 6 assists and only 1 turnover to go along with his 37 points.
“If there are two people on me, then someone’s open,” offered Gibbs on the added attention he was getting in the second half. “I’m trying to get open passing lanes, because once it comes out of my hand, we’ve got four on three and I’m taking us over pretty much anybody in the country.”
Sullivan, who was held to just 3 first half points on 1-5 shooting, hit 5 second half threes on his way to 22 points for the night. His three triples in the span of 105 seconds stretched Davidson’s lead to 20 with 9:06 remaining and built momentum the Wildcats would not relinquish. Also notable was the perimeter defense Sullivan played on the streaky Australian shooter Felix von Hofe.
Eastern Washington, an NCAA Tournament team a year ago out of the Big Sky, came out in a matchup zone, pressuring the Davidson ball handlers and ratcheting up the tempo. Whenever they could run at the basket, they did so with purpose. Austin McBroom, who played against Davidson a year ago with Saint Louis and scored a single point that night, led the Eagles with 33 points.
Davidson looked inside to Jordan Barham to attack the interior of the zone, and the senior had his best game of the young season, finishing with 22, a career high, on 8-11 shooting with 8 rebounds. With the attention on Gibbs the ballhandler, Gibbs was able to find Barham with some nifty looks around the basket when he could draw the baseline defenders up. Barham, who also hit first triple of the year, had the majority of his shots right at the rim.
Nathan Ekwu played some big minutes off the bench tonight, earning chants of his name from the students in attendance. Ekwu, in his second season, played his best game as a Wildcat, providing tremendous energy with 4 emphatic blocks, 9 points and 6 rebounds. Forced to step up due to a thinning frontcourt, Ekwu helped limit one of the nation’s most efficient big man in Australian Venky Jois. He also attacked more on the offensive end than he has been and saw good results.
“I thought [Ekwu’s presence in the paint] was one of the biggest things of tonight.” said McKillop. “He’s starting to understand his role and I thought he played it exceptionally well tonight.”
Despite the fast pace, it was a relatively low scoring game for these two teams until Gibbs got going midway through the first half and helped Davidson gain the lead on an 8-0 run. The Wildcats found their shooting rhythm and stretched the lead to 47-39 at the break.
Davidson, who struggled on the glass in the loss at North Carolina on Sunday, were outrebounded 32-30. That continues to be an area they’ll need to improve going forward. With Jake Belford out at least another game with a concussion, Davidson will need everyone to chip in.
The Gotham Classic consists of five teams, who each play the other four over the course of December. Davidson will face Pittsburgh in a Gotham Classic matchup in Madison Square Garden on December 23rd. But before then, Davidson will host former SoCon opponent Western Carolina in a Gotham Classic game on Saturday at 7pm.