Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports

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Davidson Cruises by George Mason, Moves to Within One Game of First Place in A-10

(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.

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Davidson Loses Heartbreaker at Buzzer

(Written for The Davidsonian in my capacity as sports editor.)

In the midst of the Atlantic 10 February grind, and without star guard Jack Gibbs ’17 once again, Davidson (14-6, 5-4 in A-10) were flat against St. Bonaventure. But a clutch three from Peyton Aldridge ’18 gave Davidson a one-point lead with 4.0 seconds left, and it seemed the Wildcats would get away with one. But Marcus Posley drove the full length of the floor and hit a floater at the buzzer to give St. Bonaventure (12-8, 5-4 in A-10) a 62-61 win at Belk Arena.

The inbounds pass underneath the basket went to Youssou Ndoye, who handed the ball off at the free throw line to Posley as he gathered speed. Posley, the A-10’s third-leading scorer who finished with 19 points and 7 rebounds, split two Davidson defenders near midcourt. He released a right-handed floater near the free-throw line, and as the clock hit zero, the ball hit the back rim and popped up enough to fall straight into the basket. The bench erupted as Posley turned and ran towards midcourt with his teammates soon draped over his back.

Davidson shot only 39.3% from the field as they struggled to create offense against the stingy Bonnies. On the other end, St. Bonaventure was led by a strong performance from their senior 7-footer Youssou Ndoye, who proved unguardable for much of the game, while being a menace on the defensive end, blocking and altering too many shots to count, including two in a row in the final minute. Ndoye finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks.

This was a night where seemed things just weren’t going Davidson’s way. Airballs were turned into fortunate offensive rebounds for the Bonnies, and the referees didn’t do Davidson many favors with their lenient officiating tonight. They let the boys play, but for a Wildcats team that was overmatched physically, that wasn’t a good thing.

Brian Sullivan ’16 (17 points, 5 assists) was the bright spot for Davidson, as he made some plays in the second half while others struggled shooting the ball. After an uncharacteristically sloppy half with the basketball, Sullivan settled down and was able to get teammates the ball in great positions. Late in the half, he was the one that stepped up to make shots when nothing else was falling, giving Davidson the lead back with 4:28 to play with five straight points after it seemed St. Bonaventure had seized the momentum.

Tyler Kalinoski ’14, Sullivan’s partner in the backcourt, had an off-shooting night, going only 4-11 and was held scoreless for the first 17 minutes of the second half. He missed a couple of free throws in the final minutes as well. He did finish with 13 points and 7 assists, but it was a tough day for the senior captain.

Coming off of a rough loss on the road at St. Joseph’s, a game Davidson led by 13 at halftime, Coach Bob McKillop switched up the starting lineup today, giving Andrew McAuliffe ’17 and Oskar Michelsen ’18 their first starts of the year in hopes of injecting some energy into his team. But Davidson did not get the immediate results it wanted, as the Wildcats looked incredibly disjointed early, turning the ball over three times on the first six possessions and five times before the second media timeout. McKillop could be heard yelling, “Wake up” to his players as St. Bonaventure took an early 10-2 lead.

The first half was the sloppiest I’ve seen this team play all year, especially the opening ten minutes. But despite that, a Kalinoski three, with his defender Andell Cumberbatch holding his face near midcourt after a scrum for the ball, gave Davidson its first lead of the night with 3:40 left in the first half. And somehow, despite 39.3% shooting and seven turnovers, the Wildcats led 33-29 at the break.

The second half as a whole was a defensive struggle on both ends as neither team could get much going consistently. Points were hard to come by as both teams couldn’t hit shots. Ndoye made his presence felt on both ends as the Bonnies blocked a ton of shots inside. Davidson led for nearly the first thirteen minutes of the second half, but an Ndoye dunk tied the game at 46 with 7:20 to play and a Marcus Posley three gave the Bonnies the lead shortly thereafter.

Ndoye, the A-10’s second leading rebounder, presented many problems for the Davidson frontcourt with his physical play on the block. The Bonnies looked to get the ball down low to their 7′ Senegalese center early and often, and he became the focal point of their offense in the closing minutes. Jordan Barham ’16 stepped in to limit the star big man with some solid help defense early, but Ndoye grew into the game as it wore on and couldn’t be defended as he showed off an his arsenal of post moves. Rarely do you see a player that big run the floor as well as he did after playing 36 minutes.

The Wildcats are in a bit of dangerous period right now as they wait for Gibbs to return from injury. They’ve been inconsistent without him offensively to say the least, and have gone into a bit of a funk since the emotional Dayton victory that came immediately after Gibbs’s injury in practice. The fear now is that if Gibbs doesn’t return soon, postseason hopes might be lost with another lackluster offensive performance like this one.

While it’s evidently clear that the Wildcats dearly miss Gibbs at the point, one bright spot about the last few games without Gibbs has been the emergence of Jordan Watkins ’18. Watkins has been thrust into a significant role in the midst of A-10 play and has played well, providing a spark off the bench with a willingness to attack and some scrappy defense. Today, he helped get Davidson back into the game with five straight points late in the first half.

It’s worth mentioning that St. Bonaventure brought a tremendous contingent of fans to the game, which gave their team a boost. I think it’s fair to say they outnumbered Davidson students tonight. With many of them coming from northern New York, count me as impressed. The home court advantage Davidson had against Dayton last time they took the floor here was largely neutralized, although the Davidson townspeople did make more noise tonight than they normally do. I’m sure I am not alone in being disappointed at how few students came to the game though.

Davidson will look to break its losing streak as its three game home stand continues on Saturday when the Wildcats host Duquesne at Belk Arena in a 7 pm tipoff.

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Sullivan’s Heroics Save Davidson’s Life on the Road at George Mason

(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.

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Why Davidson Beat UNC & Duke This Week, Arsenal & Deflategate

Ever since Christmas break wrapped up shortly after New Year’s, life has been a whirlwind with travel, back-to-school meetings and school work. I’ve certainly made time for sports, but I haven’t had the extra hour post-game to write. So today, I want to offer my perspective on a few things I’ve missed relating to college basketball, Arsenal and of course, the Patriots and the increasingly frustrating Deflategate.

I’ll start with basketball. Over the long weekend, I had the opportunity to go to three big time games in the state of North Carolina on three straight nights. On Sunday, I was at UNC-Virginia Tech in Chapel Hill, experiencing the Dean Dome for the first time. Monday night, I joined my high school friend in the front row at Cameron Indoor for Duke-Pittsburgh. And Tuesday night, I put down the pen to revel in Davidson’s surge of school spirit in our upset win over no. 22 Dayton, taking in the game from the student section instead of my usual spot on press row.

Beyond the excitement I get from simply watching good basketball, I really enjoyed picking up on the differences between the three fan experiences. UNC felt like an NBA atmosphere – albeit without luxury boxes. Fans were excited, and granted, it wasn’t that close a game, but it didn’t have the small-town feel I associate with the college game. I loved all the history they played up. I also enjoyed all the smart, intellectual conversation being had about the game all around me. I sat pretty high up, but I felt like everyone around me knew what was going on and could appreciate the intricacies of the Roy Williams defense. I left impressed with their basketball culture and tradition, but underwhelmed by the atmosphere.

Being in the student section at Duke was the opposite. It was about the experience. At one point, I heard the guy behind me trying to explain what an air-ball was to the girl next to him. This is someone who waited in line all day for second-row tickets, and yet they didn’t know anything about the sport. That being said, the environment in Cameron is terrific. It was unbelievably loud and so much fun to be a part of. But it was hard to concentrate on the game. Everyone seemed more focused on getting on tv and taking pictures than actually watching the game. I certainly enjoyed watching Jahlil Okafor post-up, but I’m not sure the girl behind me even noticed the 6’10” superstar ten feet away.

Davidson-Dayton was an anomaly by Belk Arena standards. I’ll admit that Davidson games typically aren’t great basketball experiences. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this game was my favorite atmosphere of the three. More than half of Davidson’s student body showed up for this game. Where else does that happen? It was loud and engaging but at least I had a little space to move, unlike at Cameron where line-monitors literally push everyone as close together as possible. People got fired up with every made three, and the roof nearly came off when Davidson kept stretching their lead. And then there were the five swimmers, who stripped to speedos for free throws and danced – see photo (which I am in as well). I loved every second of it. This Davidson game had both the basketball experience and the game experience. For me, this game experience beat UNC’s and Duke’s – at least on this weekend.

From a basketball standpoint, I remain really impressed with UNC, having seem them play Davidson two months ago as well. Their length causes so many issues for opponents, and their offense looks even more balanced now than it did two months ago. With Marcus Paige picking up his play, I expect this Tar Heels squad to peak in March. Watch out. Duke looked good too, especially offensively. Watching Okafor in person gave me a new appreciation for how good he really is. Duke has the shooters to make him all the more effective against the inevitable double-teams too. What worries me about Duke though is their lack of depth and their defensive lapses. Justice Winslow also seems half a step slow to me. They’re good, but right now, I don’t see them as being National Champions-good.

Davidson is at an interesting point in their season. Overlooking the recent 30-point loss on the road at Richmond, this team has done everything right. But injuries are starting to take a toll as the grind of the A-10 begins. Road trips anywhere without Jack Gibbs ’17 at the point won’t be easy. Is this team good enough to make the tournament? Absolutely. But it’ll be a challenge to get there with a seven-man rotation that includes two foul-prone 6’7” freshmen forwards. I’m confident. But cautiously so. Follow me on Twitter (@Klaus_Faust) for continued A-10 coverage and thoughts. It’s going to be a fun couple months of college basketball.

Now to the Arsenal, where I’ve been way behind in my coverage. This weekend was the first time I’ve felt legitimately happy about Arsenal in a really long time. I’m tempted to say since the FA Cup Final, but that was more relief than happiness. The performance against Manchester City felt like a dream. Texts I sent to my friend included, “I can’t believe my eyes,” “What a day to be a Gooner” and “Coquelin is my hero.” If you told me a month ago that I’d say those last four words, I would have laughed.

But I have to keep reminding myself that it was only one performance. Three points are only three points until you win the next game. A shift in mentality is only a shift if it can be repeated. Much is still to be done. And lest we forget, Arsenal are currently outside the top 4. But there is now hope and hope is something I haven’t experienced as a Gooner in far too long. I’d almost forgotten it could be this way.

I’m excited to see Mesut Özil and Theo Walcott back for the FA Cup tie this weekend, but I think Arsene Wenger needs to be careful with rupturing the flow of this team by thrusting them back in the lineup long-term. I want to see them play, but not at the expense of removing Coquelin or putting Cazorla out wide. I also think David Ospina should continue to start in goal. Wojciech Szczesny made a mistake, and he needs to learn. Sit him for as long as Ospina plays better than Szczesny had been playing. If that’s through the end of the year, I’m perfectly fine with that.

Switching topics, Deflategate is one of the most overblown, poorly handled things I’ve seen in sports. As a Patriots fan, I realize nobody cares what I have to say on this subject and won’t take me seriously, but take a moment to step back and think about what is going on. It’s ridiculous that the NFL has let it get to this point.

If the Patriots doctored the balls after inspection, yes, that is bad. They should be punished. But what about the line judge and umpires who touched the balls on literally every single play in the first half? Why didn’t they notice? And if informed by the Colts staff, why didn’t they stop to check them during a break in action? If there wasn’t a noticeable difference – remember the two pounds is measured in PSI, not weight – then it can’t have that big an effect. The referee should have checked it on the field and replaced the ball. If deemed not important enough to check on until halftime, then who cares about it now? It wasn’t even flag-worthy when they found out they were deflated. They just switched them out. So why are we sitting here nine days before the Super Bowl wasting our time on this issue?

If the NFL wanted to punish the Patriots, it should have done so on Monday. Letting it drag out this long is a disservice to everyone, the NFL included. It takes away from what has happened on the field and what will happen on the field. Hate on Bill Belichick all you want. He doesn’t deserve the benefit on the doubt on this one – I get it. But comparing slightly deflated balls to bounty-hunting and to Spygate is an injustice to sports reporting.


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Davidson Finds a Way to Get by UMass

(Written for The Davidsonian in my capacity as sports editor. I will post everything I write on this blog as well as on Davidsonian.com)

Not playing their best on the road against tough Atlantic 10 competition, Davidson found another gear in the final minutes with their backs against the wall. Down 59-57 with under four to play, The Wildcats used a late run to beat UMass 71-63 in Amherst to improve to 12-3, and 3-1 in the A-10.

A lot didn’t go Davidson’s way tonight. The Wildcats shot only 41.3% from the field in one of its worst offensive performances of the year. They made just 7 of 29 from deep and also committed an uncharacteristic amount of turnovers in the halfcourt. Jack Gibbs ’17 was suffering from strep throat. And the Minutemen had a huge advantage in height, which led to 13 offensive rebounds and a 41-36 rebounding advantage.

Yet despite all that, it was Davidson that left the court looking like a true contender. Coach Bob McKillop elected to go small in the final minutes, with Davidson trailing by a couple points. The lineup had 6′ 7” Peyton Aldridge ’18 at the five and 6’4” Jordan Barham ’16 at the four. The captain trio of guards, Gibbs, Tyler Kalinoski ’15 and Brian Sullivan ’16, rounded out the group. These five went to a 1-3-1 defensively and helped limit UMass, who also struggled shooting all game as well. Whenever UMass got an offensive board, one of the Wildcats was in there to strip it and go the other way. One crucial play came when Kalinoski got a strip and drove the length of the court for an and-1 that gave Davidson a four-point lead with just 3:17 to play.

That lineup also hit the offensive glass hard in the final minutes, and bought extra shots and precious time off the clock with hard-fought boards. Kalinoski had two such rebounds in the final three minutes. UMass didn’t have an answer for this last bit of pressure, and gave up with 28 seconds to play, down only 8 because of Davidson’s free-throw shooting abilities. Rarely do you see a newcomer given that much respect.

Davidson had a balanced scoring attack tonight. Sullivan led the way with 14 points, the lowest amount scored by a Davidson leading scorer in a game this year. But Gibbs, Aldridge and Kalinoski each had 13. Aldridge added nine rebounds and three blocks, while Kalinoski added six assists and five steals.

McKillop will see this game for what it was – a mid-week, on the road, grind-it-out type game. With Gibbs not at his best due to illness, it was always going to be a tough matchup. But McKillop will be tremendously happy to return to Davidson with a victory. Today was the first game since UVA when Davidson’s lack of size hurt, but it was notable that Aldridge stepped up, and others chipped in to help defensively. Davidson continues to show that they are making a serious challenge for an at-large bid this year, and today’s road win is a big step towards that goal.

Up next is another tough road trip on Saturday, this time to Richmond. It will be a match-up of severely contrasting styles of play.