by John Mason ’24 (he/ him), Staff Writer

The men’s basketball team will kick off the NIT against NC State on Thursday, March 17th. Photo by Tim Cowie.

In their final run for March Madness on March 6th, the Davidson men’s basketball team came up short in a tough battle to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in the semifinal round of the A-10 tournament, 64-52. With both teams healthy and at full strength, the game resulted in a unique clashing of styles: the consistent, well-oiled machine that is Davidson’s motion offense, versus the aggressive and persistent VCU full-court defensive scheme. The result was an unexciting, stagnant game with below average scoring on both sides, where VCU gained a lead early in the first half and never lost it. Afterwards, VCU advanced to the A-10 championship game where they lost at the hands of St. Bonaventure University, 74-65.

To understand how the team got to this point in the season and what’s next for them, let’s rewind and take a look back at the team’s journey in this season unlike any other.

After a gritty comeback win against UMass in late January that capped off an impressive 10-5 start, the season was effectively put on hold due to COVID protocols. “When the pause occurred, we were playing at a very good level,” said Head Coach Bob McKillop, recalling the team’s gradual improvement. “We were progressing as planned: we had graduated from high school, getting ready to go to college, and [all of a sudden] we were sent back to the first year of high school.” 

The team quarantined for almost a month, and after all players and coaches were cleared, the team eventually resumed their schedule and began practicing again. “It took a couple of practices for the guys to get back in shape,” said Bates Jones ‘21, a senior forward for the team. 

The ‘Cats struggled a bit coming out of the pause, winning big against Southern Virginia 101-51, but losing twice to St. Bonaventure on the road (58-69) and at home (53-56). It had been 24 days since the most recent game. “We had to recapture the flow, the timing that has always been such an integral part of who we are and what we do,” said Coach McKillop.

The final matchup of the regular season and senior day for the team was set for February 27th, which was also the first game students were allowed to attend. In a high offensive effort powered by a combined 38 points from Kellan Grady ‘21, Hyunjung Lee ‘23 and Luka Brajkovic ‘22, the ‘Cats bounced back from a string of tough losses by defeating VCU at home. Heading into the A-10 tournament, the team looked as if they had recaptured the flow Coach McKillop talked about.

The team easily defeated George Mason in the first round with a promising 99-67 victory. However, the semifinals against VCU — a rematch from senior day — did not go as planned. Coach McKillop reminisced:

“We had played a great game on Friday night against George Mason, and sometimes when you play a great game and shoot it as well as you do, you develop a sense of confidence that can carry over into the next game, but it also could be harmful in the next game if you don’t make shots in the same way that you did in the game before. So when we missed our early shots, expectations kind of intensifie[d] the threat to [our] confidence…We had great looks, and we did not knock them down.” 

That brings us to today, where the team is currently preparing for the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) as the second seed. “The team is fired up… we obviously didn’t want the last memory of the team to be VCU and we’re just really excited to play another game and get another opportunity to play more in Denton, Texas,” said Jones, when asked about getting the chance to extend their postseason play.

In total, the arc of the team’s progression through regular season play draws lots of comparisons to the postseason thus far. Similarly to their hot 10-5 start to the season, Davidson performed exceedingly well against George Mason in the first round of the A-10 tournament. Subsequently, while everything was going to plan, the team faced a setback, specifically the pause and the VCU rematch. If we were to assume the postseason would continue on the same trajectory, we should expect great things from the team in the NIT. Davidson takes on NC State in the first round of the NIT at 7:00 p.m ET on Thursday, March 18th.