Saturday, December 01, 2007

Wildcats fall to #7 Duke, 79-73

Photo by Tim Cowie

Wildcat fans might be going home today with continued frustration about Davidson's inability to knock off a Top 25 team despite coming so close. However, today's 79-73 loss to no. 7 Duke was Davidson's best showing as a team all season.

The Wildcats took then top-seeded UNC to its final possession back in November before Wayne Ellington hit the game-sealing field goal to hold off Davidson. Today, Greg Paulus hit a baseline jumper with under a minute to go to extend Duke's lead to seven. The Wildcats were unable to pull it closer than four in the final minute despite a late three pointer from Stephen Curry.

The Wildcats answered several important questions today that were still lingering in many people's minds after the Western Michigan and Appalachian State games, despite nearly letting the game get away in the first half.

Jason Richards played poorly in the first half scoring only two points and going 0-5 from the free throw line. Thomas Sander was only 1-5 from the field and Curry had two fouls and four turnovers. The Blue Devils had their largest lead at 16 after Jon Scheyer hit three free throws for being fouled on a three-point attempt with 3:33 remaining. With Curry in foul trouble, the Wildcats were on the verge of letting the game get away from them, much like they did in the teams' last two meetings in Durham. But Davidson finished the half with eight straight points in the paint and cut Duke's lead to 11 at the break.

Like they did against UNC two weeks ago, the Wildcats opened the second half on a 11-3 run, capped off by a Jason Richards three pointer. This happened despite Stephen Curry picking up his third foul on a dubious charging call to start the half. The Blue Devils never let Davidson pull even, however, as they continued to create open shots and answer every Wildcat run with a three-pointer or a big play.

Duke nearly broke the game open again with 10 minutes remaining when Kyle Singler found DeMarcus Nelson for an alley-oop dunk that put Duke up 13. But Davidson battled back once again kept the game close until the very end.

Although Davidson had yet another agonizing "close but no cigar" game, this one was different than most. The Wildcats were actually outmatched by a superior team that played a terrific game. Any spectator that would argue that Duke did not play well is insulting both Davidson and Duke themselves. The Blue Devils played like a championship team and never faltered, even when Davidson made runs. The Wildcats, conversely, proved to be one of few teams that didn't let the patented "Duke mo" take them out of the game. Davidson never quit and the final score represented that.

Davidson played this game very well as they learned to find offense through schemes that didn't involve Stephen Curry. Jason Richards found his shooting touch in the second half as he finished with a monster line of 14 points (12 in the second stanza) and 11 assists. Boris Meno and Andrew Lovedale combined for 22 points and 14 rebounds, while Thomas Sander contributed seven points despite his foul trouble. Duke only outrebounded Davidson by 1, and the Wildcats had the edge on the offensive glass (13-10). Even though Duke had several monster blocks that shifted momentum to their favor, the Wildcats were credited with two more on the game, showing how far Davidson has come in terms of having an athletic post presence.

Not only did Davidson respond well to the momentum swings that Duke produced, they also showed poise when several important calls didn't go their way. Stephen Curry was put in foul trouble early on for several charging calls (all four of his fouls were charges) that might not have needed to be called. Curry was twisting his body on the way to the basket in order to create less contact than a full on drive, and yet the referees seemed to fault him for being out of control. The refs mostly came under fire for an erroneous possession call when Paulus knocked out a loose ball under Davidson's basket and the ref changed his initial call to give it to Duke. The stadium officials replayed the play on the video board showing Paulus touch it, and the entire lower bowl clad in red went apey. But even with the poor officiating, Davidson played hard and played well, making several big shots when they needed to.

If the four-point loss to UNC was a profound statement about how far this program has come, then today's six-point loss to Duke was an exclamation point.

The Davidson fans showed incredible emotion throughout the game and continued to elevate the aspirations of Davidson's program. While many might have written the Cats off for losing to Western Michigan, today's contest showed that great basketball teams cannot truly be measured by a single forty-minute contest. The entire season is played for a reason. The NCAA tournament has six rounds for a reason. This isn't college football where they handpick two storied programs to show down in one game with all of the marbles on the table. Davidson again proved that they deserve to be a part of the national conversation of 2007-2008 college basketball.

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