Victor Taylor ’24 (He/Him), Sports Writer
Davidson men’s basketball spent the weekend before Thanksgiving in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, participating in the Myrtle Beach Invitational. This early season multi-team event was a great opportunity for the team to strengthen their at-large resume with some big opponents in the field. The team didn’t start the tournament in the best way, losing 75-64 to New Mexico State in the first round, but bounced back with wins against Penn and East Carolina. The team finish in fifth place out of 8 teams. Coach McKillop commented on the tournament itself saying, “The tournament itself is a laboratory for us to find out more about ourselves in a very short period of time, to get exposed to different styles of defense, to get exposed to different styles of offense, matchups.”
The ‘Cats played their first game against New Mexico State and got jumped on almost from the beginning, falling into a 16-4 hole at the first media timeout. However, it was the team’s defense that really got them going, keeping the Aggies without a field goal for almost eight minutes and helping the team get into halftime with a 33-28. The second half was a back and forth dogfight; New Mexico State roared back, but Davidson had a run of their own to even the game up. The Aggies scored the last 10 points of the game, giving them a 75-64 win. Reflecting on that game and the overall energy level, Coach McKillop commented, “I should have used the bench more. I didn’t use it as much as I should have. And at the end of the game, I was determined. I was determined that I was going to use the bench more against Penn, which we did. And that was a pivotal part of the Penn game.”
This loss meant Davidson was now in the losers bracket and faced Penn, a team that took the eventual champions Utah State into double overtime in their first game. As opposed to their first game, this time the ‘Cats were the ones who started out hot in the game against Penn, leading at one point 16-1. Penn did not score a point until almost five minutes into the game, but were able to claw back and get settled into the game. At one point, Penn tied the game with less than a minute to go in the first half, but a three-pointer by the team captain gave the ‘Cats the lead heading into halftime. After half, the team never relinquished the lead, using multiple players to fuel a 10-0 run in the second half that really broke the Quakers’ spirits, and finished out the 72-60 win.
Davidson played their last game against East Carolina, an in-state rival, to determine fifth place.The first half was not promising, as the Pirates took a 12-point lead into the intermission, setting the score at 47-35. However, the ‘Cats chipped steadily at the deficit and took their first lead of the afternoon on a huge Sam Mennenga ‘23 dunk around the 8 minute mark. As the game went back and forth, it was Hyunjung Lee ‘23 who hit a deep triple at the 4 minute mark to put them ahead for good and give the ‘Cats fifth place in the tournament. Coach McKillop was proud, reflecting on the game saying, “We came out at the second half slugging away. And we stayed and we fought, we stayed in that center rig and we kept fighting and fighting and fighting. And finally, the bench gave us a tremendous boost.”
Team captain Luka Brajkovic ‘22 shared his thoughts on the tournament and how the rest of season is looking for the team. Overall, he was pleased with the team’s performance. “Except for our first game, our performance was really solid on the weekend. The ECU win was the best win in my opinion, because we were down 11 at half and came back and won. It showed a lot of fight and heart from our team,” said Brajkovic.
Brajkovic hopes the ‘Cats will learn from their successful play against Penn. “So far the biggest lesson we learned is that we have to start strong, because too many times we start off the game bad and allow teams to be in the game with us,” he said. “We won against ECU not starting off as strong, but we want to follow more how we started against Penn.”
In terms of the keys to succeeding in future conference play, Brajkovic said, “It is important for us to play inside-out and continue our great passing. The defense is also always improving and we need to take pride in stopping our man on a nightly basis.”
While a fifth place finish may not excite Wildcat fans very much, the team took many important takeaways from South Carolina. With looming non conference games against Northeastern and Loyola Chicago, the team will look to finish the non conference slate strong and prepare for A-10 play.