Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports

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Davidson powers past Campbell

(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)

Davidson beat Campbell handily in the second contest of the year at Belk Arena, winning by a score of 86-51. It was the first time the two schools had met since the Wildcats’ days in the Big South Conference (1992).

Davidson worked the ball inside with a lot more efficiency tonight, utilizing the screen to great success, both on and off the ball to free cutters near the basket. Davidson’s bigs got on the board early, and that opened up the three point shot as the game wore on. Davidson grabbed a 26-8 lead midway through the first half and never looked back.

Jake Belford ’16 was the offensive star for Davidson today, showing off his arsenal of post moves against the smaller Campbell front court. Belford scored a career high 20 points on 9-12 shooting. The rest of the scoring was balanced. All nine players that saw the floor in the first half got on the board by halftime, and all nine of those scored at least five.

Davidson had a scare when Jordan Barham ’16 went down grabbing his surgically repaired knee after a basket midway through the second half. He soon returned to the court after a quick trip to the locker room for treatment, so it appears he avoided serious injury. He even threw down an alley-oop quickly followed by a fast-break slam soon after he got back on the court, finishing 7-7 from the field for 14 points in limited action. Barham has been bringing sparks of energy of the bench and would be dearly missed if he had to miss any significant amount of time.

In most impressive fashion, Davidson’s first turnover came more than 18 minutes into the game on an offensive foul. At that point, the Wildcats had 10 assists. Campbell on the other hand had 8 turnovers and was 0-6 at the free throw line in the first half (they missed their first 9 overall). That made for a 43-23 ballgame at the break.

Nathan Ekwu ’18 and Oskar Michelsen ’18 continued their fast track to fan favorite status with more big plays today. Ekwu was efficient on offense and was a monster on defense when he came from the weak side. His blocks are sent back emphatically. Michelsen continued lighting it up from deep, knocking down three more threes. It’s worth noting that he hit eight of his first nine shots in his career, which all were behind the arc. Michelsen has already earned the “Feed the Finn” chant from the student section, that had been vacated by Swedish forward Chris Czerapowicz ’14.

Kyre’ Hamer led Campbell with 14 points and 6 rebounds. D.J. Mason also chipped in 15 points for the Camels, although he was a mere 1-6 from the free throw line.

UNC looms on Saturday, and the Wildcats will certainly be in for a tough test. The #6 Tar Heels will be an entirely different beast from what the Wildcats have faced thus far. National player of the year candidate Marcus Paige leads UNC, who also are also blessed with tremendous size that the Wildcats have not yet seen. The game is Saturday afternoon at Time Warner Cable Arena.


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Davidson Wins Big in Season Opener

(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)

The Davidson men’s basketball team opened their first ever season as a member of the Atlantic 10 with a 102-66 win against Catholic University at Belk Arena.

Tyler Kalinoski ’15 (19 points, 5-8 from 3) and Jack Gibbs ’17 (17 points on 7-9 shooting, 6 assists, 4 steals) were running the show for Davidson today. The two had complete command of the game and had their way on offense, especially in transition, where they looked to run at every opportunity. In the open floor, they showed off their vision, picking out teammates and pulling up for jump shots.

“Our guards got open and our big guys did a great job of running the pipe on fast breaks and because they did that, the defense sunk in and they gave us those open shots,” Kalinoski said.

Davidson began the game brightly enough, but it wasn’t until the defense got going that the offense began to take off in full. The Wildcats held Catholic without a field goal for a 12 minute stretch in the first half. That 29-9 run late in the first half helped Davidson pull away quickly. At the break, it was 47-23 Wildcats.

The second half was more of the same for Davidson, who were tremendous from deep. Kalinoski and Michelsen combined for seven triples in the opening ten minutes of the half. On the day, Davidson was 15-29 from deep. Everyone got in on the act in the end, and Davidson had 13 players get on the board, with a total of five in double figures.

“I was very pleased with the consistency of our performance from one to half to the other,” Coach Bob McKillop said after the game. “I liked the versatility that we presented, the different lineups we had, the minutes we distributed. I’m very, very pleased top to bottom of our roster in their performance today.”

Picked 13th out of 14 in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, the Wildcats were out to prove the doubters wrong in the home opener. The big questions going into this season were about the play of the front court and whether the bench could provide any consistent scoring. Right from the start, the Wildcats went to battle down low. Davidson dominated the glass, albeit against a Catholic team that possessed no players over 6’7”. And from the bench, Oskar Michelsen ’18 scored 18 points in his debut, hitting six 3’s on only seven attempts, and Jordan Barham ’16 came in and attacked. Davidson’s bench totaled 51 points for the game.

On the whole, Davidson’s offense looks a lot different this year without De’Mon Brooks in the middle. The motion offense around the perimeter allows the Wildcats to spread the floor, and because all five players on the court are shooters, the defense can’t drop off anyone. Davidson is patient when swinging the ball, awaiting the moment when the defense makes a poor closeout or can’t get around a screen quick enough. When someone can catch and drive, or get the ball to someone on the block, the 3 point shooters are open in the corners. Kalinoski and Brian Sullivan ’16 were the two looking to drive off the catch in the half court, and everyone was knocking down the shots.

The freshmen all made a positive start to their Davidson careers. Peyton Aldridge ’18 (7 points, 11 rebounds) and Michelsen were particularly impressive, but Nathan Ekwu ’18 (10 points, 7 rebounds) also looked like he fit right in, highlighted by a thunderous block that sent Davidson down the court for a transition 3. The way Aldridge and Ekwu manhandled the undersized Catholic frontcourt says a lot about their respective abilities. More impressive though was Michelsen’s debut. His stroke from deep looks pure as silk.

“He [has] showed a remarkable feel for the game,” McKillop said of Michelsen’s transition to the college game. “It’s not about athleticism with us, it’s more about feel. And he really understands the flow of a game. I think he’s unselfish – he’ll make the extra pass – but you saw today, he made the shots and he’s not at all hesitant.”

“Our bigs did a great job attacking space and posting up,” Michelsen said. “Our guards did a great job of finding me on the arc and when you get a good pass to the pocket it’s pretty easy to shoot.

Jack Gibbs provided a pair of highlights as Davidson blew the game open late in the first half. All day he had been looking to push the ball, but he finally got free on two straight fast breaks . On the first, he drew two defenders before splitting them with a sweet, lefty bounce pass for an Aldridge slam. He took the second one on his own, powerfully spinning around a helpless Catholic defender for an easy layup. Gibbs has looked sensational thus far.

It will be vital to get Brian Sulllivan ’16 going soon, as the captain struggled shooting the ball all day. He contributed 7 assists, but he missed 10 of his 11 shots. The Wildcats didn’t need his scoring today, but his  contribution will be vital going forward.

The Wildcats next contest is Tuesday night at home against Campbell before #6 North Carolina travels to Charlotte for a date with Davidson at Time Warner Cable Arena next Saturday.

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Wildcats Overcome Slow Start to Topple Lenoir-Rhyne in Exhibition

(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)

Davidson Men’s Basketball opened their 2014-2015 campaign with an 83-56 win over Division II foe Lenoir-Rhyne at Belk Arena in an exhibition game. This was the first time the Wildcats took the new-look floor marked with the Atlantic 10 logos below the free-throw line, and after a sluggish first half, Davidson looks ready for the new challenge.

Trailing 33-30 at the break, The Wildcats got going in the second half thanks to improved play from guards Tyler Kalinoski ’15 and Brian Sullivan ’16. The two captains were each held to a lone field goal in the first half, but at the first media timeout of the second half, they’d combined for 9 points to swing the game in the Wildcats favor. Once the Wildcats got going in transition by forcing turnovers, they were able to find a rhythm in a hurry, building a 20 point lead less than 11 minutes after halftime. Overall, the Wildcats shot 65% in the second half.

Jack Gibbs ’17 was the undisputed star of the day for Davidson, scoring 26 points on an array of 3’s and drives, going 8-10 from the field. The sophomore guard, named a team captain this year, looks a much improved player from a year ago, showing off a new level of confidence on the court. The sophomore had his head up at all times in transition and was able to pick the right times to drive and when to kick. Off the ball, he was lights out from deep, knocking down 5-6 from behind the arc. He seems to have made the next step from a successful freshman season.

The Wildcats had struggled in the first half, shooting a mere 35% from the field in the half – including only 4-14 from inside the arc as Lenoir-Rhyne led for the majority of the half. Were it not for 15 first half points from Gibbs, Lenoir-Rhyne would have held a larger lead than the 3 point advantage they took into the break. The Bears dominated the offensive glass in the first half – they had 8 offensive rebounds – despite starting no players taller than 6’6”. That will be worrying for Coach Bob McKillop, who will certainly know that the Wildcats will need to find ways to rebound effectively despite the lack of size the Wildcats have up front.

Potentially even more so than in years past, Davidson’s offense looked especially reliant on the 3-ball in the early going. Every single one of the starters is looking to shoot, and from the first possession tonight – a Jake Belford ’16 triple deep into the shot clock – it became clear the Wildcats are going to be shooting a lot of 3’s this year. Only when Jordan Barham entered the game midway through the first half did anyone look to drive in the half-court offense.

But the real strength of this team will be transition offense. Gibbs and Kalinoski are pests defensively – each had 3 steals today – and every time they force a turnover, the Wildcats will be a threat. Gibbs has the speed to get up court in a hurry, and his ability to drive will force opposing defenses to back off Davidson’s shooters. That is where the ‘Cats will be the most dangerous. Spot up Sullivan, Kalinoski or Gibbs, and they will knock it down with regularity.

One question that looks to be answered is who is going to start at the 4. It appears the answer is freshman Peyton Aldridge. The Leavittsburg, Ohio product was active throughout, looking to shoot early on, and battling down low. He and the rest of the Wildcats struggled rebounding the ball in the first half, but he played much better in the second half, finishing with 11 points.

Nathan Ekwu ’18 also looks ready to contribute right away. The freshman forward from Nigeria is a major physical presence already, sending one Lenoir-Rhyne attempt back in impressive fashion. He grabbed eight boards off the bench, which helped the Wildcats limit the Bears on the board in the second half. He will need time to acclimate, but he will be a big part of the Davidson bench this year from day one, igniting the crowd with highlight plays on both ends.

Now done with preseason play, the Wildcats begin the regular season Saturday at 2 pm against Catholic at Belk Arena. A date with #6 UNC looms on the 22nd, so the Wildcats will be looking to get off to a fast start in preparation for the contest at Time Warner Cable Arena.

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Emirates Cup Wrap-Up, Clay Buchholz and Paul George

As I previously mentioned, I wasn’t able to watch the Arsenal-Monaco game yesterday morning. I monitored the game via Twitter and tried to find extended highlights, so I have a pretty good sense of what happened, but there isn’t all that much from the match itself that I can fairly analyze. Overall, it’s disappointing to miss out on winning the Emirates Cup on home turf yet again, but at the end of the day, the results aren’t what matter.

What I gleaned from the stuff I’ve watched and read was that a few of the Arsenal players looked to be a bit behind on their fitness. Olivier Giroud in particular looked a long way off from being ready for the new season. It’s entirely understandable given the World Cup and his late arrival at preseason, but it’s now looking like it may take at least until the end of the month for Arsenal’s main striker to be ready for extended game action.

However, any fears about Giroud’s absence were surely lessened on Saturday when Yaya Sanogo scored four goals against Benfica. It also looks like Arsene Wenger is quite comfortable playing Alexis Sanchez through the middle, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sanchez start up front against Manchester City next weekend in the FA Community Shield. And even Chuba Akpom could be a decent option up top if need be, as he once again showed himself quite well against Monaco yesterday in a substitute appearance.

With the German contingent still yet to return to training, Wenger’s options in certain areas will be limited when he selects his team next weekend. A trophy is on the line though, so he can’t run out an entirely inexperienced and experimental side. At this point, I think I would like to see a lineup of Wojciech Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs, Laurent Koscielny, Calum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy, Mathieu Debuchy, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sanchez and Yaya Sanogo take the field at Wembley on Sunday. Joel Campbell might also be in line for a start.

Other than fitness issues and an obvious penalty that wasn’t given late on, my only issue with the game was Aaron Ramsey’s inclusion in the starting lineup for the second day in a row. Ramsey is unquestionably Arsenal’s most important player at this point. And he picked up an unfortunate injury last winter due to overuse. So why Wenger thinks it’s a good idea to play Ramsey two days in a row in preseason is beyond me. Maybe it would have made sense to play him another half today to get him some more game action in the abbreviated summer, but he was on the pitch long after halftime. This wasn’t Wenger’s smartest move in my opinion.

Switching to baseball, watching the Red Sox on Sunday Night Baseball last night felt odd given the events of the last week in Boston baseball. This is certainly not a team built for primetime at the moment. The fact that Clay Buchholz is the de facto ace of the staff for the rest of the year is a scary thought for all those interested in fast-paced, low-scoring baseball. A Buchholz with no confidence against the Yankees in a nationally televised game is a recipe for a four and a half hour marathon. Who doesn’t love those games especially when the teams are bad?

But the bigger issue is Buchholz on the mound these days. Something needs to happen to get him in a mental place where he can pitch with confidence again, and I’m not sure getting hammered every fifth day is going to do the job. It’s strange to think about how he was thought about a year ago at this point, when he was the pitcher who was going to take the Red Sox to the World Series upon his return from injury. But now that he’s finally healthy, he’s been terrible all year. Maybe a trip back to the DL for shoulder tightness will allow him to take a break in order to get right mentally. It’s not like the Red Sox would lose anything with him not on the mound.

And on another note, while I think it’s a shame Paul George got hurt playing for his country in summer basketball, that injury should not mean the NBA needs to ban its players from participating in international tournaments. Injuries like the one he suffered can happen anywhere, anytime. Even if players aren’t competing officially, they’ll be out doing workouts on their own, playing pick-up basketball as well. And leg injuries are just as likely to happen then. So there is no need for overreaction. Fortunately for all of us who love international basketball, Adam Silver is a very reasonable man, and I think he’ll see this issue clearly.