Davidson completed its week of North Carolina rivalries with a 109-74 win over UNC-Charlotte and a 98-65 loss against No. 9 UNC, moving to 5-1 in the young season.
With Stephen Curry sitting just behind the Davidson bench last Tuesday, Jack Gibbs ‘17 put on a show for the ages in the Wildcats’s romp over cross-county rivals UNC-Charlotte. It was Davidson’s third straight victory in the Battle for the Hornets’ Nest, and it gave coach Bob McKillop his ever 5-0 start at Davidson. The win also marked the first 5-0 start at the school since the legendary Lefty Driesell took the 1968-69 squad, who would make the Elite 8 that year, to 5-0 in his final season at Davidson.
Gibbs, who scored a career high 41 on 14-17 shooting (6-7 from three) in only 29 minutes, put on a shooting clinic in the first half, hitting all nine of his shots, including three from deep. Then he came out after halftime and picked up right where he left off, making his next five shots before a corner three finally bounced off the rim. He hit from everywhere on the floor, including a couple well behind the arc. Powerfully blowing by helpless defenders, he made the young Charlotte backcourt look silly with an array of flicks and banks. Curry was left shaking his head in the crowd.
“Sometimes, a shooter gets in a zone,” McKillop said of Gibbs’s performance after the game. “With Baryshnikov in the stands, we had a little bit of inspiration,” McKillop continued, comparing Curry to the famed ballet choreographer. “The players knew he was here, and Steph’s been so good to our guys. That kind of inspiration can really be magical. I thought Jack and Brian [Sullivan ‘16] had some magic tonight with their shooting.”
Gibbs’s 41 were the most points in a game for a Davidson player since Curry himself scored 43 vs. Appalachian State in March of 2009. It was fitting that the next night, with throngs of Davidson alumni and students in the crowd, Curry put on his own show, scoring 28 of his 40 points in the third quarter in a 116-99 Golden State Warriors victory over the Charlotte Hornets.
But on Tuesday it was Jack’s show. After hitting his first 14 shots, Gibbs had to use extra effort to get his 40th point. After missing a couple tightly contested shots, he broke the barrier at the charity stripe. Just like when Curry put up 44 in a 2008 game with LeBron James watching, Gibbs played his best with the eyes of the reigning NBA MVP upon him.
“I thought we did a pretty good job of executing on offense,” Gibbs said postgame with a huge grin on his face, unaware that he had made his first 14 shots. “Luckily I got some open shots and hit a few of them. And then a few more.”
UNCC looked to be gaining some momentum right after half when Ridell Camidge knocked down his third three in a row with 19:23 to play, but Davidson followed with a lightning quick 9-0 run to blow open the game once and for all. A Gibbs-to-Barham alley-oop in the middle of the run all but silenced the large 49ers crowd for good. When Gibbs followed a 49ers free throw with his own 9-0 run, the Wildcats were suddenly up 79-47 with 15:53 to play. The 49ers would not make it close again.
Davidson had come out on fire in the first half, hitting their first five shots, forcing Mark Price into an early timeout down 12-2. Before Charlotte could breathe, Davidson had a 35-17 lead. Starting 13-15 overall and 7-9 from three, the Wildcats were on fire in the opening 10 minutes. After a nifty Gibbs move made it 55-29, UNCC went on an 11-0 run to cut into the lead. But a Gibbs bank shot at the buzzer sent the ‘Cats to the locker room up 59-43. For the half, Davidson shot 68% overall.
Sullivan started just as hot as Gibbs, hitting his first four threes on his way to a 23 point night, his second straight 20-point game. One of the national leaders in minutes per game, Sullivan finally got a well-earned ten-minute rest in the second half with the Wildcats way up. Sullivan was also a key part of the gang rebounding Davidson needed to counter the 49ers’ size advantage.
“We need to be a team of defenders,” McKillop said of what he thought was the best team defensive performance of the young season. “We don’t have any sheriffs on the team. We have no shot blockers on the team that are going to lock the rim up. We have to be a group of five guys cohesively joined at the hip, making sure we protect the rim.”
Peyton Aldridge ‘18, whose play has been a key factor in Davidson’s hot start, began the game with a contested three and consistently chipped in with big shots and big rebounds. He finished with 18 points and 7 rebounds. Jordan Barham ‘16 rounded out the group of Wildcats in double-figures with 14 points.
Though Charlotte was able to get some buckets due to their superior offensive rebounding, there wasn’t much else to critique in the Wildcats’ performance in the most lopsided victory over UNCC in McKillop’s tenure. The veterans played well, sophomores Nathan Ekwu ‘18 and Rusty Reigel ‘18 had impressive performances off the bench, and of course there was Gibbs. Then, with the ugliest trophy known to mankind in hand, they walked over to celebrate with Curry and his family.
The road game at Chapel Hill proved a different story for the Wildcats. North Carolina began the game with a 10-0 run and never looked back on their way to their seventh consecutive victory over Davidson. The Wildcats shot a season low 34% from the field and made only 8-31 from deep.
“North Carolina knocked us on our heels in the opening minutes of the game, and they kept us on our heels throughout the game,” said McKillop. “They overpowered us in transition, they overpowered us on the glass, and they created chaos for our offense.”
UNC may boast one of the nation’s most efficient offenses, but it was their defense that shut the Wildcats down Sunday. Joel Berry II led the way by making Jack Gibbs work even to touch the ball. Whenever Gibbs could get into the lane, there were hoards of defenders there. Gibbs, who was named Atlantic 10 Player of the Week on Monday for his efforts in these two games, was held to 19 points on 7-20 shooting (3-11 from three) and committed an uncharacteristic 5 turnovers.
Davidson came into the game leading the country in turnover percentage offensively. But UNC’s length caused 14 turnovers overall. Whenever Gibbs or Barham drove, UNC always had help from the weak side there to challenge every shot and swipe at the ball. In the halfcourt, Davidson struggled to get good looks, often forced away from the three-point line deep into the shot clock. In the rare moments when Davidson did get a good look from deep, nothing fell.
The Tar Heels held a 52-31 advantage on the boards, with 15 of those on the offensive end. McKillop attributed the poor rebounding to having not found a way to overcome Tyler Kalinoski’s departure quite yet. Where the star man from a year ago got a disproportionate amount of 50-50 balls, the Wildcats have not been winning those to the same extent this year.
Davidson will look to bounce back when they host Eastern Washington tonight at Belk Arena in a Gotham Classic matchup. Tipoff will be at 8:30 p.m. after women’s basketball hosts Michigan State at 6 p.m.