Wildcat Weekly | Edition 10 | Cole Vulpis
Davidson did it. After winning 15 games in a row, including victories against Alabama, at VCU, and at Richmond, Davidson was ranked in the AP Poll for the first time since 2015. In that 2014-2015 season, Davidson received their ranking on the Monday before the A10 Tournament. They drew La Salle in the first round and won. They then advanced to play VCU and lost. This loss then resulted in Davidson dropping from the poll.
Last week, they were set to face the same opponents, VCU then La Salle. Would Davidson win both and climb the poll or would history repeat itself?
Davidson vs. VCU
After a three-game road stretch, Davidson returned to Belk Arena to play VCU. Given that Davidson was able to defeat VCU in Richmond, it was certainly plausible that Davidson could handle them at home. That said, VCU definitely gave Davidson a lot of trouble the first time. Davidson had 17 turnovers and only won that game by 2.
Davidson got out to a good start in this game and led 11-6. VCU then came back, and the two teams were eventually tied at 28 with just over 2 minutes left in the first half. Then, VCU went on an offensive explosion, scoring threes on their last three possessions. VCU led 37-29 at half.
Last time Davidson faced VCU, the ‘Cats had an 8-point lead at half, and VCU closed that lead in less than five minutes. With an 8-point deficit, they surely couldn’t afford to have another poor start to the second half. Unfortunately, they did. Davidson fell behind 13 after the first 3 minutes. And despite trying to climb back, the ‘Cats found themselves down 15 with 5 minutes to play.
Then, Davidson cut the lead to 11 and Bob McKillop made a coaching decision that puzzled the announcers. McKillop subbed in Emory Lanier. Lanier averages under 5 minutes a game. He has received more minutes at point guard lately due to Grant Huffman being out of this game and prior games due to injury. But in a close game like this and with little time left, it was certainly puzzling to see Lanier come in. Well, all he did was intentionally foul a VCU player and get taken out. This is not exactly a common thing you see with three minutes left. It ended up being Davidson’s sixth team foul, so VCU was now in the bonus.
McKillop’s plan began to make sense as soon as VCU inbounded the ball after the foul. Davidson didn’t get a stop right away, so they fouled Jalen DeLoach. DeLoach had made 4 of 20 free throw attempts this season, and McKillop was willing to take these odds. DeLoach missed the first free throw. Davidson ball. And Luka Brajkovic made a basket on Davidson’s next possession.
The ‘Cats then started to gain momentum. Hyunjung Lee got a steal right off the inbound, and the ‘Cats drained a three. VCU’s lead was down to 6 in nearly and instant. And, soon after, it was cut to 1. All in all, Davidson went from down 15 to down 1 in less than 4 minutes.
But the ‘Cats could not finish the comeback. They would never regain the lead. When Davidson had the ball and the score was 69-68, Luka Brajkovic got called for an offensive foul. And when they had the ball down 70-68, Brajkovic’s three was blocked Mikeal Brown-Jones. There was some drama at the end when Brown-Jones intentionally missed his second free throw and Davidson called a timeout that they appeared to not have on the broadcast. But it didn’t matter as Davidson had a fraction of a second left and Michael Jones’ catch-and-shoot three off Davidson’s inbound didn’t go in. The ‘Cats lost 70-68, their first loss since November 18, 2021.
Brajkovic led Davidson in scoring with 23 and also led the team with 12 rebounds. This was Brajkovic’s fourth d0uble-double this season and the fourteenth of his career. Brajkovic and Nelson-Boachie Yiadom led the team in assists with 2. Davidson had 15 team turnovers, two less than their last game but, given that 17 is their season high, this is still a lot for the team. Davidson shot 43.2% from the field, 21.4% from deep, and 81.8% from the line. Their 3P% was a season low, significantly under the 50% it was in their last game against VCU. Their 3 made threes also tied a season low; they also had 3 made threes in their previous game against Fordham. The ‘Cats outrebounded VCU 35-24.
Davidson vs. La Salle
Davidson had an opportunity to bounce back by earning a win against La Salle. And this game marked a very special occasion for the Wildcats. It marked Bob McKillop’s 1000th game head coaching college basketball, all of which, of course, were spent with Davidson. Moreover, Davidson was having a jersey retirement ceremony for Hall of Fame Davidson coach Lefty Driesell and former Davidson coach and player Terry Holland after the game.
The ‘Cats made sure not to sour the ceremony and led La Salle the entire game. The Explorers didn’t make their first bucket of the game until the 15:14 mark. Davidson had a 7-point lead at halftime and extended this lead to 15 with 7 and a half minutes left. But La Salle began to ramp up their defensive pressure, forcing 5 Davidson turnovers over this last 7 and a half minutes. La Salle was able to shave the lead down to 4 with a minute left, but Davidson remained calm. Hyunjung Lee shot made four free throws on four attempts to close the game. The ‘Cats as a team made their last 14 free throws, allowing for a comfortable 77-69 win.
This was Davidson’s largest win since they beat UMass eighteen days before. Brajkovic led the team in scoring for now the fourth game in a row, scoring 22 points this time. Sam Mennenga led in rebounds with 8, and Foster Loyer led the team with 5 assists. Davidson shot 46.2% from the field, 36.8% from deep, and 78.6% from the line. They got to the line 28 times. Over the last three games Davidson has got to the line 29, 33, and 28 times. Their previous season-high in free-throw attempts was 23. Davidson outrebounded La Salle 38-32 and had 10 team turnovers.
It turned out that history did repeat itself, and like last time, this loss put Davidson out of the AP Poll. Davidson ended up being 32nd in voting today with 10 points. Their 10 points, however, only came from two voters, meaning 34 voters dropped them from their ballots. This isn’t really surprising given that they were only ranked 25th. They’ll certainly have a chance to build off their 10 points; the conference season is not even halfway finished.
It’s good that their first loss in a long time didn’t turn into another one. And now they still sit first in the conference at 7-1. It’s also good to see Loyer, who had averaged 1.67 assists and 3.33 turnovers in the three games before the game against La Salle, have 5 assists and 2 turnovers against La Salle. In other aspects, however, the team feels to be in a similar situation as they were prior to their victory. Davidson has seen increased defensive pressure from opponents and has now had 5 straight games with double-digit team turnovers. Their 3-point shooting, which averages over 40% this season, has not eclipsed the 40% mark in three straight games. And the team’s leading scorer, Hyunjung Lee, has shot under his scoring average for four straight games. In the game against La Salle, Lee went 0-5 from deep. Lee averages 2.4 threes a game but has not had multiple threes in a game in his last 4 games.
Davidson’s problems have been similar and so has their answer: Luka Brajkovic. Brajkovic has been a beast over Davidson’s conference schedule. Over the last four games specifically, Brajkovic is averaging 21.25 points. He is also shooting 65.9% from the field 71.4% from deep (on 7 attempts). These are unreal, Player-of-the-Year-type numbers from Brajkovic. Surely, this would be great for Davidson if it continues. Given that Davidson has had a loss and some close wins over this four-game stretch, however, it’s probably more important to see Lee and the rest of the team increase in efficiency and scoring. They’ll have a chance to do this starting tomorrow against St. Bonaventure.
A Look Ahead
Davidson visits St. Bonaventure tomorrow (Tuesday) at 7 PM. This game will be aired on CBS Sports Network. They then head to D.C. to play George Washington Saturday at 2 PM.
St. Bonaventure was ranked at the beginning of the season and was the favorites to win the Atlantic 10 conference. Now, they sit in sixth in the conference standings and are also fifth in the conference in KenPom and seventh in the conference in the NET rankings. That said, this St. Bonaventure team is certainly still very good, having defeated VCU and 24th-ranked Marquette by over 15 points. Moreover, Davidson is 2-4 all time against St. Bonaventure at the Reilly Center (2-3 since joining the A10). This game should be a good one and is a major opportunity for Davidson to cement their NCAA-Tournament-worthy resume.
Davidson will hope to see the return of Grant Huffman in their game against St. Bonaventure. Huffman is often the point guard substitution for Foster Loyer. In the four games in which Huffman has missed time, Loyer has had over 35 minutes in each of them, which is something he had never done prior to the injury. Huffman’s presence would help give Loyer more time to rest and also allow Davidson to show different lineups against the Bonnies.
Thanks for reading. Come back every Monday for another edition of the Wildcat Weekly! For more Davidson and Atlantic 10 coverage, follow me on Twitter @WildcatCole24.