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Davidson Hangs Tough Against #3 Virginia

(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 (9-2) fell on the road at #3 Virginia 83-72, but the Wildcats made a name for themselves with impressive guard play against the nation’s leading defense. Virginia trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half as Tyler Kalinoski ’14 and Jack Gibbs ’17 excelled for Davidson. But ultimately, it was Virginia’s offensive rebounding that gave them the advantage.

The Wildcats were without Jake Belford ’15 once again today, but after the game it was revealed that he didn’t miss the game with the foot injury that has plagued him this month. Instead, Coach Bob McKillop announced that the forward injured his knee in practice and will likely miss the rest of the season after surgery on a torn meniscus. Jordan Barham ’16 also missed the game due to a concussion.

Without Belford and Barham on the boards, Davidson had to use the inexperienced duo of Peyton Aldridge ’18 and Nathan Ekwu ’18 up front, where they were overmatched by a veteran Virginia core. Virginia, led by double-doubles from Anthony Gill (25 points, 13 rebounds) and Darion Atkins (13 points, 10 rebounds), grabbed 17 offensive rebounds against only 19 defensive rebounds for Davidson. The Cavaliers hit the boards hard, and time after time got second and third chances near the rim.

But for much of the game, the story was Davidson. The Wildcats, led by Gibbs (21 points, 4 assists) and Kalinoski (20 points, 7 rebounds) took a 29-17 lead behind hot shooting and clever offense. Gibbs carved apart the nation’s best defense at times, and continuously got teammates open looks. He shot the ball well from deep and showed off a nifty set of floaters. Gibbs also had only one turnover, despite playing 34 minutes. Gibbs, Kalinoski and their fellow captain Brian Sullivan ’16 combined for 11-19 shooting behind the arc.

Virginia made adjustments offensively in the closing stages of the first half and began attacking the interior of Davidson’s defense, and began inching back into the game. Davidson led 36-32 at halftime, but Virginia took the lead soon after the break as they gained momentum and picked up their intensity. Davidson kept the game close through hot shooting from Sullivan and Gibbs, tying the game at 55 with a corner three, but from there, the Cavaliers pulled away.

Many will say Davidson should be pleased with playing Virginia so close for so many minutes on their home floor, but Coach McKillop will see this game as having both positives and negatives. Davidson can take away that their offense is good enough to compete with anyone nationally, and I mean anyone. Gibbs, Kalinoski and Sullivan are all capable of being first-team all-conference in the A-10.

But today also served as a harsh reality check for life without Belford the rest of the way. Ekwu and Aldridge will have to mature quickly on the defensive end in conference play if Davidson wants to compete for a conference title. Andrew McAuliffe ’17 will need to step up too. He was as good as I’ve ever seen him on the offensive end, showing off some post moves, but he didn’t grab a single rebound in 16 minutes of action.

This team does many things as well as anyone, but they’ll need to figure out how to rebound defensively against bigger teams on the road.

Davidson opens Atlantic 10 play at home against Richmond Saturday night on NBCSN. For a preview of the conference season, check out my conference preview here.



Atlantic 10 Conference Preview and Predictions

2013-2014 was a banner year for Atlantic 10 basketball. As many A-10 teams made it to the NCAA Tournament as ACC teams. But this year was always going to be a transition year for the conference. Non-conference play is now nearly over, and it has become evident that the conference is down significantly from the highs of a year ago. Teams top to bottom have struggled at various times throughout the year. But from the struggles, solid basketball teams are emerging as conference play is about to begin.

The A-10 won’t get six bids this year, but it can reasonably aim for three or four. There is tremendous parity among the middle eight or nine teams, so this should be a fun year. Here are my predictions for the order of finish in conference play this winter. All statistics are through December 28 and are from Kenpom.com.

14. Fordham (4-6).  Best Wins – None. Worst Losses – home vs. Maryland Eastern Shore, home vs. UMass-Lowell. Player to Watch – Eric Paschall (16.8 ppg) – the freshman scored 31 points in the season opener, but has since cooled down. He is a streaky shooter capable of catching fire. On the negative side, he turns the ball over at alarming rate (3.4 per game).

Fordham does little well on the court. They are subpar on offense and can’t play defense. Their relative inexperience is shown in their 339th national rank in turnovers. They shoot below 30% from three as a team, so they don’t have much chance to beat better teams that way. The one thing they do well is rebound the ball, as Ryan Rhoomes is one of the best offensive rebounders in the conference, although he can’t do anything else with the ball. Fordham will have to improve tremendously if they want to win more than one or two games.

13. Duquesne (4-6). Best Wins – None. Worst Losses – home vs. NJIT, home vs. Maryland Eastern Shore. Player to Watch – Jordan Stevens (12.5 ppg) – Stevens leads the Dukes in points despite playing only 22.4 minutes per game. His best game of the year came at Penn State. If given a bigger role, Stevens has a chance to blossom.

Duquesne has not beat anyone even remotely good in non-conference play, but they have kept a couple of games close against talented teams. They actually play a little defense, and are capable of shooting the three, which is why I put them ahead of Fordham, as they might win some games if they get hot. However, this team might be equally bad. They shoot a miserable 59.6% from the free throw line, good for 341st in the country. And they have no star players capable of leading the charge.

12. Saint Louis (8-4). Best Wins – home vs. Vermont. Worst Losses – home vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, home vs. South Dakota St. Player to Watch – Achraf Yacoubou (9.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg) – the transfer from Villanova is part of a balanced Billikens offense. Yacoubou likes the ball in his hands and has been putting the ball on the floor more this year to get to the basket. He’s no Jordair Jett, but he’s just about the best they’ve got.

The problem with starting five seniors one year is that you’re left with a lot to do the following year. Don’t be fooled by the wins in non-conference play, as Saint Louis has played one of the ten easiest schedules thus far. This team is young and lacks a true scorer. Not one player averages even 11 points per game. They do a tremendous job of getting to the free throw line, but they aren’t a particularly great shooting team from the stripe. Defensively, they’re solid, but where they will struggle is in the half-court offense. For a team used to success, Saint Louis will have a rough go of it this year. Jim Crews has a tough job.

11. St. Bonaventure (7-3). Best Wins – home vs. Buffalo. Worst Losses – home vs. Maryland Eastern Shore. Player to Watch – Youssou Ndoye (11.1 ppg, 11.3 rpg) – the senior center has taken a big leap this year and become a force on the glass. His defensive rebounding rate is 7th best in the nation. He has also begun to put things together on the offensive end, scoring 17 or more in three of his last six games.

This is where the parity begins. The Bonnies are by no means a bad team, as many saw in their run in the conference tournament last year. They might even reach seven or eight victories. But they have some holes that make me believe they’ll struggle at times. For one, while their interior defense is strong, they are dreadful at defending the three. They also rely solely on their starters, which means foul trouble or a single injury could prove problematic. Marcus Posley can score, Ndoye can rebound and defend, so they will be right there in many games. But I’m not sure freshman point guard Jaylen Adams (not to be confused with Jalen Adams, a redshirt freshman) is quite ready for big road tests. He can shoot, but can he make the right decisions in tough situations? (On a side note, Maryland Eastern Shore would do well to play A-10 teams all year.)

10. George Mason (5-6). Best Wins – home vs. Iona. Worst Losses – home vs. Cornell. Player to Watch – Shevon Thompson (12.7 ppg, 11.3 rpg) – the JuCo transfer from Jamaica has produced some massive double-doubles lately, including 29-10 and 24-14 games. He is a rebounding machine, and currently ranks second in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage.

George Mason has played a tough non-conference schedule and taken their licks. After the first week of December and a heartbreaking overtime loss to Northern Iowa, they sat at 2-6. But a recent win streak should give them some confidence going into A-10 play. They aren’t a great shooting team, but they do a good job of getting to the line. Their height, led by Thompson, will give a lot of teams big problems. This team can play. It’s just a question of whether or not they’ll be able to finish games.

9. St. Joseph’s (6-4).  Best Wins – home vs. Temple. Worst Losses – home vs. Fairleigh Dickinson. Player to Watch – DeAndre Bembry (14.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg) – Bembry is almost always on the court, taking a lot of shots. But he hasn’t found his shooting rhythm this year, seeing his percentages drop significantly from a year ago. His last couple games suggest a change in his fortunes might be coming though.

The Hawks are an interesting team. Between Bembry and Isaiah Miles, they certainly have the scoring ability. Their defense will be near the top of the A-10 too. And they’ve pulled out a lot of close games so far. But this team hasn’t shot the ball well at all, shooting only 25.2% from three as a team on the season and 62.3% from the free throw line. They’ve thrown two stinkers in their two biggest games against Gonzaga and Villanova, losing by a combined 80 points in the two games. So where will they land in conference play? I think somewhere in the middle. They’ve got the talent to beat anyone, but they lack the consistency to make a serious run.

8. La Salle (7-5). Best Wins – at Hofstra. Worst Losses – home vs. American. Player to Watch – Jordan Price (18.8 ppg) – the sophomore transfer from Auburn has lit it up, scoring upwards of 25 points four times, including in three straight late December contests. He lives at the free-throw line, and always will take the big shots.

Here’s where the teams really begin to bunch up. La Salle has played a lot of good teams close, and they’ve seen great competition, but they have come up short in every single one of those games. They just don’t have that killer instinct quite yet. However, they do a number of things well. As a team, they defend in the half-court better than almost everyone in the conference. They have some height across the board, and are a solid rebounding team. Price’s ability to score should keep them in many games. Expect them to get a couple of huge wins, but disappoint with more than their fair share of tight losses.

7. Dayton (9-2). Best Wins – neutral vs. Texas A&M, home vs. Georgia Tech. Worst Losses – none. Player to Watch – Jordan Sibert (15.3 ppg) – a major contributor in last year’s Elite 8 run, Sibert has had an up and down season so far. He’s great with the ball in his hands and brings a veteran presence to Dayton’s offense. He was terrific in the victory over Georgia Tech last week.

Were it not for the dismissal of Devon Scott and Jalen Robinson, the Flyers could have been an outside contender for the conference title. But the loss of the two forwards leaves Dayton in a bind, as they now have zero players taller than 6’6″ and a rotation of only seven players. I just don’t see that working out long term. They have a good offense and an even better pressure defense, but the lack of size will bite them in the foot against otherwise inferior teams like George Mason. Their schedule is set up for a great start, so don’t be surprised if Dayton is 5-0 heading into their trip to Davidson, but I don’t think they have the bodies to withstand the recent adversity all the way to March.

6. UMass (6-6). Best Wins – home vs. Northeastern. Worst Losses – home vs. Florida Gulf Coast. Player to Watch – Derrick Gordon (11.5 ppg) – Gordon earned the headlines by becoming the first openly gay college basketball player last spring. Big things were expected from him on the court this season. Gordon has been solid, but unspectacular. He’s been sharp with the ball, but hasn’t shot the ball well. For UMass to find success, Gordon needs to become a bigger part of the offense.

UMass had high expectations coming in to this season, but December has seen things fall apart for the Minutemen. A close loss to rival Harvard sent them into a skid in which they’ve lost five of six. They’re a great team in the half-court offense, but they have very little in the way of outside shooting, which has cost them. Cady Lalanne has been big down low in setting up their interior defense, but he’ll need to improve further on the offensive end in conference play. UMass has a tough January, so it’ll be interesting to see whether they can bounce back from this tough stretch quickly enough to get mentally ready for the conference grind. That being said, they are one of the most talented teams in the league, and have a higher ceiling than most. I can see them finishing anywhere from 3rd to 10th.

5. Richmond (7-6). Best Wins – home vs. William & Mary. Worst Losses – at James Madison. Player to Watch – Kendall Anthony (15.3 ppg) – the diminutive senior has maintained a steady level of production since freshman year. But now, more needs to be asked of Anthony. He’s been streaky from behind the arc so far, which has led to scattered performances. The Spiders need their senior guard to be a consistent scoring presence and a reliable ball handler.

Don’t expect to score more than 60 points against the Spiders this year. They play at a snail’s pace and buckle down on defense from the opening tip. They won’t blow by you or overpower you inside, but they will give you a game. Offensively, they do a good job of not turning the ball over, and they shoot a great percentage inside the arc. They have a lot of length, which could present problems for teams that like to put the ball on the floor. This team doesn’t have as high a ceiling as many across the A-10, but they will be a tough one to beat.

4. Davidson (9-1). Best Wins – home vs. Charlotte. Worst Losses – none. Player to Watch – Tyler Kalinoski (16.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.7 apg) – an outside conference player of the year candidate, Kalinoski is one of the nation’s most efficient guards. He is a lights out shooter, making 41.5% of his threes thus far, and he never turns the ball over. He’s patient on the break, and gets his teammates a lot of space by drawing extra defenders. He also has been a much better player in the second half of games – twice in early December he had 19 or more second half points – and has the clutch gene so many players lack.

Possibly the biggest joke of the A-10 year was the preseason placement of newcomer Davidson as 12th out of 14 teams. In their first year in the conference and without a veteran front court, many expected the Wildcats to struggle. But Bob McKillop’s team has breezed through their non-conference slate with the nation’s best scoring offense. This team does not turn the ball over and is full of players who can shoot from anywhere. Seven different players have scored at least 16 points in a game. Freshman forward Peyton Aldridge is proving to be a terrific addition, and a player not afraid of the big stage, as evidenced by his 25 point performance against UNC. Davidson may come to regret the easy non-conference schedule, as an at-large bid may be in play. Watch out for the Wildcats in March, as this team can not only shoot (17th best three point shooting team in the country), but they play defense and don’t give away any possessions.

3. Rhode Island (7-3). Best Wins – home vs. Nebraska. Worst Losses – none. Player to Watch – E.C. Matthews (17.7 ppg) – Matthews has scored in bunches when he’s caught fire this season. He’s the key to Rhode Island’s offense and a great shooter. The sophomore guard has shot the ball better than he did a year ago both within the arc and outside it, although he has been streaky from three.

Rhode Island will be squarely on the bubble all season. But I believe they will ultimately get in the Big Dance behind a stingy defense that ranks 25th best in the nation. Hassan Martin and Gilvydas Biruta lead a front line that is one of the toughest in the A-10 on both ends. And while Matthews provides the outside threat, his teammates do an excellent job of getting to the foul line. Together, they make for a dynamic group of players. A home game vs. VCU on January 13 will be a fantastic test of the Rams’ defense, so be on the lookout for that score as a way of determining just how far Rhode Island will go.

2. George Washington (9-3). Best Wins – neutral vs. Wichita State, neutral vs. Colorado. Worst Losses – none. Player to Watch – Yuta Watanabe (7.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg) – the freshman role player from Japan might seem a strange choice given his relatively low numbers, but he will be vital to the Colonels long term success. “The Chosen One,” as dubbed by The Japan Times, has the ability to stretch opposing defenses with the three-point shot, something none of his teammates do. He will be the necessary zone-buster in certain games. But Watanabe is also capable of putting the ball on the floor, so don’t be deceived into thinking he’s a one-way threat.

If I had to rank the best team in the conference at this moment, I’d put George Washington at the top. They’re an incredibly solid basketball team. They have a top-15 defense, which gives away very few easy buckets despite its propensity to force turnovers. And offensively, they’re balanced and efficient in the half-court. Kethan Savage and a few others showed in Hawaii that they’re capable of stepping up in the crucial moments, so beware the Colonels in March. With George Washington, you know what you’re going to get – 40 minutes of disciplined, well-coached basketball. But where they might struggle is against equally defensively minded teams that pack the interior.

1. VCU (9-3). Best Wins – home vs. Northern Iowa, neutral vs. Oregon. Worst Losses – at Old Dominion. Player to Watch – Treveon Graham (16.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg) – the senior has taken another step this year, improving his three point stroke and his ball-handling. VCU will go as Graham goes against top quality opposition, as he is one of the players capable of matching up with anyone across the nation.

VCU has played one of the toughest schedules in the country, and after falling to 5-3 with a loss at home to Virginia, there were some questions about whether this team would fail to reach their potential. But since that loss, VCU has won four straight, including grinding out an impressive double-overtime win over Northern Iowa. VCU is one of the nation’s best on both ends. They play fast, and as a result force turnovers on 25.6% of their opponent’s possessions, good for ninth in the country. Offensively, they’re as talented as anyone, and their veteran backcourt doesn’t turn the ball over. This team has not come close to reaching their ceiling, and for that reason I project them to finish ahead of George Washington. They can make a deep run in March.

Over the course of the conference season, I will provide updates and analysis periodically. Follow me on Twitter (@Klaus_Faust) for regular A-10 basketball coverage, and check back for write-ups of Davidson basketball games.

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Davidson Cruises Past Stetson

(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 handily beat a young Stetson squad 90-59 before a smaller crowd of 3,132 inside Belk Arena Saturday afternoon in non-conference action. The win, Davidson’s 4th in a row, moves the Wildcats to 6-1 on the season.

Coming off of an emotional victory over Charlotte on Wednesday, there was always a chance for a let-down. But the Wildcats were focused and used a balance attack to build a large lead. Defensively, the Wildcats limited Stetson to 32.2% shooting, including holding them without a field goal for over ten minutes in one stretch that spanned across the halves. It was sustained pressure for forty minutes that manifested itself in a large margin of victory.

Tyler Kalinoski ’15 once again led the way for Davidson with an efficient showing now typical from the senior captain. He matched his career-high 25 points (including a career-high 7-9 from deep), breaking the 20 point mark for the second time this season and third time in his career. He also had 4 assists, but perhaps most impressively, he grabbed a season high 9 rebounds. With starting center Jake Belford ’16 sitting this one out due to a foot injury, the Wildcats needed the help on the boards.

“[Kalinoski] just continues to get better and better and better,” Coach Bob McKillop said after the game. “He’s the heart and soul of this team. He was the catalyst for why our guys were ready to compete today and I thought we competed the entire game.”

Brian Sullivan ’16 also had an effective game, dishing out a career-high 8 assists while adding 14 points. When Jack Gibbs ’17 went to the locker room for a few minutes late in the first half, Sullivan calmly took the reigns and helped settle the Wildcats in the half court. Sullivan was only 2-8 from three today as his shooting woes continue, but he’s finding other valuable ways to contribute. As a team, the Wildcats dished out a season-high 25 assists.

“I’m still not really shooting as well as I’d like to, but I’m not really worried about it. I’m playing well and I’ve let [the worries about the shooting struggles] go,” Sullivan said. “I wasn’t getting too down on myself because I was still playing really good basketball.”

The highlights again came from Jordan Barham ’16, who’s carving himself a nice scoring role off the bench. These highlights involved a pair of high-flying dunks. The first, which was negated by an offensive foul, involved Barham posterizing a Stetson defender with a left-handed tomahawk. Nobody will remember that he was called for a foul on it. The second came off an inbounds pass below the basket. Barham cut across the lane and soared above a Hatters defender to catch the Kalinoski pass well above the basket. His two-handed alley-oop slam punctuated a perfectly designed out-of-bounds play. And this one counted.

Despite the final margin, the opening minutes were probably the sloppiest Davidson has played this season, with a few too many passes thrown to unsuspecting teammates. It wasn’t necessarily a ton of turnovers, but just a general lack of focus in the opening two or three minutes. Perhaps that could have been because the arena had none of the energy from Wednesday night, or perhaps it could have been a pre-exams lull, but credit the captains for getting their team going quickly. Coach McKillop talked about this being a trap game, but Davidson avoided all potential problems by keeping the throttle on.

Stetson is one of the most inexperienced teams in all of Division I basketball, starting three freshmen and playing another three significant minutes. But today they were also hindered by the fact that Brian Pegg, their leading scorer, didn’t play. They seemed inclined to push the pace in the early going, which was an odd choice. They were often out of control, and their shooters were simply awful (4 of their first 28 from deep).

In the first half, Davidson seemed content with running their half-court sets and getting good looks from three, while Stetson lacked any sort of offensive rhythm. The Wildcats built a double-digit lead in the opening minutes and gradually stretched it over twenty as the Hatters went the last nine minutes of the half without a field goal. Davidson led 48-24 at the break.

Oskar Michelsen ’18 scored 16 points off the bench. And Nathan Ekwu ’18, who got his first start in place of the injured Belford, chipped in 7 points and 10 rebounds. Belford’s injury is a muscular problem in his left foot which happened during the Charlotte game. But McKillop thinks it will only be a few days before he’s back in the starting lineup.

Davidson’s next game is on the road at Montana Wednesday night before returning home for a contest against Niagara next Saturday evening.

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Davidson Crowned Charlotte’s King of College Basketball

(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 took home the Hornets Nest Trophy for the second straight year by beating UNC-Charlotte 91-86 before a large crowd in what was certainly the best atmosphere at Belk Arena in the young season. Davidson led throughout, and impressively combated a substantial size differential with great post play and fantastic shooting. The game was not as close as the final score, as Charlotte scored a number of points in garbage time.

Charlotte was exactly the test Davidson needed at this point in the season. They presented substantial size up front and a veteran group of players that knows how to win. Mike Thorn Jr. is an NBA-quality center and his frontcourt partner Willie Clayton is one of the best offensive rebounders in the country. For a Davidson team that has struggled to rebound the ball this season, this was a big ask.

Despite an uncharacteristic 18 turnovers, Davidson passed the test with flying colors, shooting 58% on the day while out-rebounding Charlotte 37-31. Davidson’s bigs deserve tremendous credit for their work on the blocks today. They not only out-rebounded the 49ers, but they shut down Thorne Jr, limiting him to 10 points and 5 rebounds. Of the many highlights from today, that may be the most exciting for the future of this team.

“[This win] is huge for us,” Tyler Kalinoski ’15 said after the game, “We made some mistakes, but we kept fighting. The way we fought today shows a lot going forward.”

Davidson looked to attack the interior of the Charlotte defense with a vigor that hasn’t always been there, sending Clayton and two other 49er starters to the bench early in foul trouble. The ‘Cats hit the offensive glass and looked for cutters to beat the 49ers’ zone. Jordan Barham ’16 was especially effective against the zone in the first half, providing a huge spark off the bench for Davidson. Barham, who’d been averaging 9.0 points in just 12.8 minutes per game, hit his first 6 shots and had 13 first half points, finishing with 16 points on 7-8 shooting and 5 rebounds. In addition to his usual high-energy dunks, Barham impressed when he had the ball in his hands, facing up defenders and blowing by them.

Kalinoski caught fire in the second half, hitting five threes and making a wide variety of baskets when Davidson needed them most. All 19 of his points came after the break. The senior captain, who came into the game second in the Atlantic 10 in assist/turnover ratio, had another great overall performance, with 3 rebounds and 4 assists to go along with only 1 turnover.

“Tyler’s the heart of our team,” Coach Bob McKillop said of Kalinoski’s performance after the game, “Without doubt, he’s the one that makes us go. He’s got great courage, he’s got terrific tenacity, he’s a selfless teammate and he’s a winner.”

Davidson caught fire from behind the arc at the start of the second half, sending Charlotte back to man-to-man defense as they made their first 4 threes in the opening minutes to extend the lead up to 12 soon after the break. However, Charlotte found a lot of success getting the ball inside to Clayton as the second half wore on and kept the game close as Davidson’s fouls piled up. But Clayton’s 4th foul, which came with 12:22 left and the 49ers trailing by seven after he’d already scored 10 second half points, saw the Wildcats regain the momentum. A Kalinoski three followed by a Barham three gave Davidson a 75-62 lead with 8:32 to play.

Clayton soon returned only to foul out with more than 5 and a half minutes remaining. That was the final nail in the coffin. Charlotte was unable to get back into the game in the final minutes as Davidson kept making shots. Whenever the 49ers made a basket, Davidson would respond with a big one of their own deep in the shot clock. But to their credit Charlotte never quit, and made a few baskets right at the end to make the score as close as it was.

Davidson needed to play tougher today to combat Charlotte’s size advantage, and they got a boost from Andrew McAuliffe ’17. McAuliffe bodied up the 6-11, 270 pound Thorne Jr on the defensive end to aid Jake Belford ’16, Nathan Ekwu ’18 and Peyton Aldridge ’18, who were all in a lot of foul trouble. McAuliffe, whose action has been limited this year, stepped up in a big way. In addition to his defensive efforts, he also found ways to contribute offensively, tipping in one basket and dunking another, while occupying defenders down low.

That presence inside the arc helped get Brian Sullivan ’16 some better looks behind the arc. Sullivan, Davidson’s marksman who came into the game only 5-30 from three for the year, knocked down a triple on the first possession and made two more before the 10 minute mark of the first half, finishing with 13 first half points and 15 overall. It was a solid response from the captain, and one which will hopefully get his season going.

Davidson had used a 9-0 run to take an early 17-9 lead, but both teams shot the ball incredibly well and traded buckets for much of the first half. However, Davidson took a 45-38 lead into the break. With Clayton and Pierria Henry, the 49ers top perimeter defender, on the bench for much of the first half in foul trouble, Davidson found a way to out-rebound Charlotte 20-12 in the first half. Thorne was limited on the offensive end, more helpful as a means of drawing the Davidson defense into the paint and opening up lanes for Charlotte guards to attack.

Jack Gibbs ’17, coming off the Atlantic 10 player of the week award, chipped in 12 points and 5 assists for the Wildcats. For Charlotte, Clayton led the way with 17 points despite playing only 16 minutes. 5 others finished in double figures for the 49ers.

The annual “Battle for the Hornet’s Nest Trophy” has been contested each of the last 34 years. The Mecklenburg County rivalry has taken on added heat in recent years. Among Charlotte fans, there is a bit of a grudge held as recent conference changes for both schools have seen Davidson take Charlotte’s place in the Atlantic 10. (A year ago, Charlotte moved to Conference USA, a worse basketball conference in recent years, for the betterment of their football program). It must hurt that Davidson has now won two straight.

“Let’s face it, this is a game for the rights in the city,” McKillop said after the game, in which students wore shirts emblazoned with his nickname ‘The Silver Fox’ and his face, “And this is a terrific city, so it’s nice to get the victory this year.”

After lifting the trophy, Davidson’s next game is at home against Stetson at 4 pm on Saturday.

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UNC Too Much for Davidson

Davidson hosted a very talented #6 UNC team at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, ultimately falling 90-72. The lower bowl was close to full with roughly equal amounts of Davidson and UNC fans, but Davidson fans were making most of the noise in the early going.

However, on the court, it was UNC whose play did the talking. Davidson got off to a fast start, with Peyton Aldridge ’18 hitting a couple triples in the opening minutes, but after the first media timeout, UNC locked down on defense and Davidson had trouble getting shots up, much less good shots.

UNC’s size proved a problem for the Wildcats on both ends of the court as Kennedy Meeks (19 points, 12 rebounds) and Brice Johnson feasted on the size differential, getting easy buckets on the offensive end and altering shots on the other end. Meeks in particular was impressive for the Tar Heels, going 9-13 from the field and also chipping in a pair of  blocks. On the perimeter, UNC’s guards were using their length to close out every Davidson shooter immediately. As a result, Davidson shot a season-low 30% from 3 and were quite limited with what they could do offensively.

The Davidson player who shone the brightest today was Aldridge, the freshman from Leavittsburgh, Ohio, who finished with a career high 25 points (6-10 from deep) and 6 rebounds . He was active on both ends of the floor, but excelled on offense, where he looked to attack from the opening tip. He was remarkably poised for a freshman, and considering the circumstances, his performance today was excellent.

Defensively, Davidson did okay given the quality of opposition. Rebounding wasn’t as big an issue as it could have been, as everybody chipped in to box out the UNC big’s. However, Davidson wasn’t able to disrupt the rhythm of national player of the year candidate Marcus Paige, who was able to create quality shots for his teammates, and for himself when he wanted to.

After Davidson had hung around for the opening quarter of the game, where UNC pulled ahead was when Davidson let them get out on the break midway through the first half.  When the Wildcats were careless with the ball, or took a bad shot, UNC were down the floor in a hurry. Their athleticism was unlike anything Davidson has seen this year, and UNC took advantage of any hesitancy or indecision.

The second half was much of the same for UNC, who looked comfortable throughout. J.P. Tokoto put an exclamation point on the victory with a ridiculous alley-oop in the final minutes, showing off the athleticism that plagued Davidson all day.

UNC’s defense locked in on Brian Sullivan ’16 and Tyler Kalinoski ’15 throughout and didn’t allow them much space to shoot. Because the Tar Heels didn’t double team anyone on the block, they were able to stick on Davidson’s two best scorers and prevent them from getting going. While Sullivan and Kalinoski did take a number of shots, they were rarely clean looks at the basket. The two captains found other ways to contribute today, but without their scoring, Davidson was always going to have a hard time.

From today’s game, it became clear that Davidson needs to focus on developing their inside-out game over the next month of non-conference play. When UNC didn’t have to worry about anyone scoring on the post, or anyone driving the lane, they stuck to Davidson’s shooters like glue as good Atlantic 10 teams will. Sure, the Wildcats didn’t shoot their best from deep, and to an extent, this team will always live and die by the three against teams like UNC. But they missed the 3’s today because they weren’t always good looks. To get those, the Wildcats need to find ways to get the ball inside more effectively. Davidson has the shooters to compete on a high level, but the offense isn’t quite there yet this year.

I spoke with Brice Johnson in the locker room after the game and he spoke quite highly of Aldridge, saying that he thought players like Aldridge would ensure a smooth transition into the Atlantic 10. (Unfortunately, my audio recorder malfunctioned, so that’s why I don’t have direct quotes).

Davidson’s next game is a trip to UCF on Wednesday night.