Wildcat Weekly | Edition 7 | Cole Vulpis
With the Alabama win under Davidson’s belt, the team’s job remained the same: keep winning. But there was a problem–they didn’t have a game to play. Both Davidson’s A10 opener against Duquense and the subsequent game against VCU were postponed due to COVID-19 issues with the other program. Hence, there was no Wildcat Weekly last week.
Fear not! The show went on, and Davidson resumed play fourteen days after defeating Johnson and Wales on Decemeber 22, 2021. With a new year, would a fourteen-day gap result in a new Davidson? Or would the team easily shake off the rust and extend their nine-game winning streak?
Davidson at Saint Joseph’s
While Saint Joe’s was nine spots lower than Davidson in A10 Talk’s power rankings, a win for Davidson did not seem like it would come easy. Davidson hadn’t played in fourteen days. Meanwhile, Saint Joe’s was coming off an unexpected 27-point victory over Richmond. With a newfound confidence and the crowd behind them, Saint Joe’s seemed like it had potential for another upset.
The first half was pretty exciting, a back-and-forth affair. In the first half, Jordan Hall was a perfect 3 of 3 from deep and totaled 13 points for Saint Joe’s. This helped Saint Joe’s have as large as a 5-point lead when they were up 30-25 with four and a half minutes left in the first half. Then, Foster Loyer ended the Hawks dreams. Loyer made a two, then a three, and then another three. Davidson led 33-30 and wouldn’t look back, closing the game with a 88-73 victory.
Foster Loyer led the team in scoring with 25 points backed by 5 triples on 8 attempts. Michael Jones and Hyunjung Lee posted 18 and 17 points, respectively. Lee also had 10 rebounds, leading the team and earning himself his fourth double-double of the season. Loyer led in assists with 5. The team shot 51% from the field, 46% from deep, and 85% from the line. The Wildcats outrebounded the Hawks 38-34.
Davidson prevented Saint Joe’s from gettting another big upset, and got a Quad 2 win to boot. This put Davidson at 2-2 in Q1/Q2 and 8-0 in Q3/Q4. The win also brought Davidson up to #35 in the NET, 19 spots up from where they debuted. (They currently sit at #38.)
In perhaps the most balanced game for Davidson this season, all five of Davidson’s starters played about 30 minutes and scored in double-figures. Sam Mennenga scored 13, which is the most he’s scored since November 19 against Penn. If all of Davidson’s starters are shooting well and making plays, they’re going to be a tough team to beat. Fans will certainly look for this to continue.
Davidson vs. Rhode Island
Like the Saint Joe’s game, the first half of this one was very back-and-forth. Their were fourteen total lead changes, and eleven of them occurred in the first half. By the end of the half, the game was tied 35-35. Rhode Island made four threes in the first half, three of which came from Antwan Walker off the bench. In the second half, Rhode Island had a different gameplan. Antwan Walker did not attempt a single three, and the team as a whole was 0 for 3 from deep in the second half. They were, however, dominant in the paint. The Rams had the largest lead of either team, seven, when they led 62-55 with seven minutes left. It appeared that URI was in control.
Davidson continued to hang around, though, and the ‘Cats gained the lead with a minute and a half left to play. This was their first lead of the second half. The score was 67-66. The layup Malik Martin made to give URI their affortmentioned seven-point lead was actually the last field goal the Rams would make. But they had plenty of free-throw oppurtunities. This is how the Rams regained the lead; Makhel Mitchell made two free throws and the Rams led 68-67. On Davidson’s subsequent possesion, the shot clock was running out, and Michael Jones was stuck in the center of the paint. He hoisted something up and it went in. The Wildcats were up 69-68 and they needed a stop.
Lee successfully guarded Ishamel Leggett’s drive attempt. Leggett retrieved the ball and was trapped under the rim. Jones is credited with blocking the putback attempt, and the refs, who called 38 total fouls in this game saw no issue with the play. Foster Loyer got the rebound, and the Rams were forced to foul. The Rams coach, David Cox, jumped on the court, and the Rams were charged with a technical, which the announcers said was given to Makhel Mitchell. Loyer made three of four free throws, and Davidson walked away with a 72-68 victory.
Loyer led the team with 19 points, over half of which came from the free-throw line. Brajkovic was right behind with 17, and Lee had 16. This now marks the eighteenth consecutive game where Lee has scored in double figures, dating back to last season. Brajkovic led in rebounds with eight, and Loyer once again led in assists with five. The team shot 49% from the field and 78% from the line. They were 6-24 from deep, which is 25%, a season low. Each team had 27 total rebounds.
Over the course of this season, much of Davidson’s offensive success has come from threes. Going into this game, Davidson was 2nd nationally in three-point percentage, only trailing South Dakota State (which is still the only team in front of them). 25% is way below the team’s current average of 41.3%.
Moreover, the team really struggled with the abundance of fouls called by the refs. They couldn’t gain any momentum. The fouls also put several Davidson players in foul trouble. Loyer and Brajkovic finished with four fouls, and Lee and Mennega with three. Rhode Island players similarly dealt with foul trouble, but unlike Rhode Island, Davidson has relied much less heavily on their bench this season. Davidson usually only has three or four players play from the bench, and the bench has contibuted toward only 12.6% of the team’s points against Division I opponents. Having players in foul trouble put Davidson in a precarious situation.
In the face of both of these obstacles, Davidson still won. Overcoming the first obstacle, the low three-point percentage, shows the floor of this team. And this wasn’t against some lousy opponent. This is Rhode Island, who now becomes the second team in KenPom’s top 100 to fall to Davidson.
Foster Loyer playing well is also fantastic for the floor of this team. It appeared that Lee could become the face of this team after dropping 32 against Charlotte. Since then, Loyer would lead in scoring in four of six of Davidson’s games against D1 opponets, with Brajkovic leading in the other two. This included Loyer’s 35 points against Northeastern. Loyer is also becoming a great playmaker. As of this morning, Loyer is 29th nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio according to the NCAA, and the team as a whole ranks 5th. Loyer is also 2nd nationally in three-point percentage. The fact that Lee leads the conference in scoring and yet isn’t necessarily the person leading the way each game is so tremendous for this team.
As mentioned, offensively speaking, the bench still hasn’t been contributing an incredible amount. Defensively, the bench is doing their job, but this is now the fifth game in a row that the bench has combined for less than 10 points. This isn’t necessarily a problem; 33% from the field this game for the bench isn’t great, but it’s not horrible either. It nonetheless leaves a question mark for the depth of this team. The potential is clearly there; Grant Huffman and Des Watson each made nice moves to earn their baskets against Rhode Island. With the team having now won 11 games straight for the first time in eight seasons, there’s certainly no reason to panic about this or anything else, but as a fan, you hope the production of the younger bench players increases as the season progresses.
A Look Ahead
Davidson has two games this week. They host UMass tomorrow at 7, and play at Richmond Friday at 9. The second game is part of a FridA10 double header and will be broadcasted on ESPNU.
UMass is 2-0 against the Big 10 with home wins over Penn State and Rutgers but is just coming off a home loss against Duquense. UMass is 5th nationally in three-point percentage, so given that this is a battle of two of the top-five three-point shooting teams, we can expect a lot of triples in this one. Because one team could simply have a better shooting night than the other, UMass could get another big win despite struggling recently. Luckily for Davidson, UMass’ defense has been abysmal. KenPom ranks UMass’ defense #322, while Davidson’s is #127. The ‘Cats will look to exploit this tomorrow.
While Davidson vs. UMass is a battle of top-five three-point shooting teams, Davidson vs. Richmond is a battle of top-five assist-to-turnover ratio teams. This time, however, Davidson’s opponent outranks them, as Richmond sits 4th. Over the last few seasons, Richmond and their point guard Jacob Gilyard have been known for breaking down defenses with great passes and cuts. Even their big man Grant Golden contributes heavily in the assists column, averaging 3.4 per game. Winning at Richmond will certainly be tough this year; they couldn’t accomplish this last year and Richmond returned many of the same players. Unfortunately, a win at Richmond will not seem as impressive as one would have thought at the beginning of the season, given Richmond’s 1-2 start in conference play. That said, it’s still a Quad 2 oppurtunity that would further boost the ‘Cats postseason hopes.
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.