"The South's Foremost College Weekly"
By Will Bryan
This 2005-2006 basketball season has been a tale of two teams. Or has it? One could look at Davidson's conference leading margin of victory and home wins over the likes of Missouri and St. Joe's and be convinced that this is one of the best Wildcat squads in recent history. One also might argue that inconsistency has plagued a team that has lost four out of seven conference road games, and has not been able to come back from a halftime deficit. However, this team has continued to claw through every opponent they have faced this season and have not relinquished until the final buzzer sounded.
Last Saturday, the Wildcats epitomized Coach McKillop's philosophy of playing one game at a time, enjoying the moment, and moving on to the next play.
Taking on the team that broke the Wildcats' remarkable record for conference victories, the Wildcats (16-9, 9-4) gave the Furman Paladins a lesson in aggressive, fundamental basketball. Davidson jumped out to a 28-9 lead in the first half that was capped off by a Jason Morton '06 three-pointer, his eleventh in a row dating back to the Wofford game. That mark set a new team and conference record for consecutive three-point baskets. Like so many opponents before them this year, Furman seemed stunned in the first half and they were never able to claw their way closer than 15 points, falling by a final margin of 77-59.
The Wildcats were paced by a double-double from Thomas Sander '08 who finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds and Ian Johnson '06 who finished with a game-high 20 points. The Wildcats finished with 34 points in the paint, showing the interior dominance that makes Davidson foes continually have to double down when the ball goes down low. Davidson's seemingly newfound aggressive style found the Wildcats picking up unprecedented amounts of offensive boards and second chance points. Morton and Matt McKillop '06 sparked a defensive effort worthy of praise as they resoundingly shut down the Paladin perimeter game, holding shooters Eric Webb and Robby Bostain to just 10 total points, and 1-4 from three point range.
"I really thought Matt showed some grit out there today," said head coach Bob McKillop. "We played with high energy and I'm really proud of our guys."
Apart from the College of Charleston, Davidson has faced all of the top five teams in the Southern Conference at Belk Arena and come away with resounding victories. In a great departure from last year's heart-stopping close thrillers, Davidson has opened up games in the first half this season, holding a 9.5 average margin of victory that leads the Southern Conference.
Kenny Grant '06 continued to direct the floor as he dished out a game-high nine assists, helping to maintain Davidson's top assist mark in the conference and ranking of sixth in the nation.
"Our hallmark is unselfish play that opens up the floor," said coach McKillop. "And Kenny has really developed into the floor leader that keeps that together."
The victory over Furman also marked a pivotal performance by the Davidson fan base. After consecutive home games with underwhelming attendance, the Wildcat supporters showed up in droves and waved their white towels in an impressive display for the TV cameras.
"People don't realize how much the crowd can affect the outcome of a game," said coach McKillop. "Our players thrive off of their energy which makes it louder. It is a mutual relationship."
Sitting tied for first place with Elon and Georgia Southern, Davidson's trip to Statesboro this Tuesday will be a pivotal game in the outcome of the season. If the Wildcats win, they are guaranteed their fifth straight division title and an automatic berth the NIT if they were to lose in the conference tournament. With a loss the Wildcats would have to beat the College of Charleston on Saturday and hope that the Eagles lose.