Davidson 84, Fordham 66: McKillop Still Learning, Adapting

On Jan. 11, Fordham went to Davidson (where the home team is 163-26 in the last 14 seasons) and came back to New York with one of the biggest surprises of the Atlantic 10, baffling the Wildcats and holding them to 0.86 points per possession in a 60-54 loss that was Davidson’s slowest game of the season (63 possessions).

But when Fordham coach Jeff Neubauer looked and saw there was a return match a little more than two weeks later, he knew beating Davidson a second time would be a tall order.

Davidson coach Bob McKillop’s resume speaks for itself: 526 career wins, 14 seasons with 20 wins, eight NCAA Tournament appearances, and widely regarded as one of the top offensive minds in college basketball. And so, with a second look at Neubauer’s unorthodox trapping and pressuring half-court defense, the Wildcats were ready.

Of course they were.

Jack Gibbs, held to a season-low 11 points in the first meeting, scored 28 points on 5-5 three-point shooting, while Peyton Aldridge matched him as Davidson rolled to an 84-66 win at Rose Hill Saturday afternoon, snapping Fordham’s modest, but impressive, two-game conference win streak.

Gibbs is currently ninth nationally in scoring (22.6 ppg) as he begins to wind down his stellar career, while Aldridge (21.1 ppg) is 20th, and only St. Bonaventure’s Jaylen Adams (second) is keeping them from being the top two scorers in the Atlantic 10.

“Those two guys showed why they are two of the best players in the conference today,” Neubauer said. “We did try some different things defensively, but did not find the right combination of ideas. It’s very hard to go somewhere and beat a team on their home court and then come back and beat them at your place, especially when a team is as well coached as Davidson is.”

Interestingly, McKillop – always a wonderful conversation when it comes to basketball tactics and strategies – is not so set in his ways at the age of 66 that he doesn’t learn and listen to others. In preparing for Saturday’s game and Fordham’s defense, he took the advice of his young assistants, led by his son Matt, who played for his father at Davidson from 2002-06.

“I listened to my assistant coaches. I’m a real motion guy: pass, cut, screen. They are millenials, they like the dribble more,” McKillop said. “So we used the ballscreen a lot, which is kind of uncharacteristic of me, but what our assistant coaches believed could be a strength for us against this team, and it was. Pete Carill once said, ‘When you make the first pass easy, the second pass becomes easier and so on down the line’. Well, the ballscreen allowed that first pass to be a lot easier, and once that happened and we spread out, guys like Jack and Peyton can shoot, and guys like KeShawn (Pritchett) and Jon (Axel Gudmundsson) can handle it and spread the court.”

And so, Davidson (11-8, 4-4) had 23 assists (Gibbs had 7, while Gudmundsson and Pritchett had 5 each) on 26 field goals, shot 17-29 from behind the arc and posted 1.25 ppp as they look to make a run up the Atlantic 10 standings in the second half of the conference season.

It was a vintage off Broadway performance for the Davidson and McKillop, who grew in Queens and went to Hofstra. As with other teams in the Atlantic 10, there were plenty of Davidson NYC alums in the crowd that went home happy as well.

What else did we learn in The Bronx?:

  1. Keep it simple

It hasn’t been a great offensive season by Davidson’s very high standards anyway, Saturday’s performance pushed them up to 87th in efficiency. Amazingly, the Wildcats had been in the top 42 for each of the last six seasons including the last two in the Atlantic 10. Not surprisingly, they shoot well and take care of the ball (2nd and 3rd nationally in turnover rate the last two years), which would seem the perfect foil to what Fordham does defensively.

But it hadn’t worked out that way, Neubauer was actually 2-0 (with a win last season) over McKillop before Saturday.

“We wanted to just let our players play basketball, no joysticks from the coaches, nothing orchestrated, just the fundamentals of basketball: passes, catches, dribbles, everything else,” McKillop said. “Our defense was superb in terms of five guys tuned it and linked together and operating on the same page. You can become too complicated, and that’s a credit to Jeff that he creates this defense that makes you start thinking. Then, you’re on your heels. Our message in preparation was just play basketball, like you’re in the park, the schoolyard, your neighborhood gym, just go play.”

2) Slight comeuppance for Fordham

The Rams (9-12, 3-5) followed up a home win over VCU with an impressive victory at UMass and started to have visions of finishing in the top half of the league. But they were never really in this game, going 13 minutes in the first half with a single field goal (Davidson has played very good defense at times this season) and falling behind by as much as 22 points.

Fordham recovered to finish at 0.99 ppp, but they never really got close enough to make Davidson sweat. Joseph Chartouny had 21 points and Antwoine Anderson added 16, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

“When we got behind early, we didn’t respond very well. And so our focus has got to be maximized, and we’ve got to be able to handle it when a few balls don’t go in for us,” Neubauer said. “They were more aggressive defensively on ballscreen defense. They also denied a little bit more, so Joe (Chartouny) got them back door early, but they were just a little more aggressive, and it did affect us.”

3) Chasing offensive rebounds

Davidson was shooting so well, that it nearly pulled off a rare feat, going an entire game without a single offensive rebound. It’s a tougher task than you’d think, remember you get credit for one if the ball goes out of bounds and a ball or two usually finds an offensive player over the course of a contest.

But with 6:50 remaining, Oskar Michelsen (one of six international players on Davidson) grabbed a long rebound off a Gudmundsson three-point miss. Ironically, Davidson got another seconds later off another miss and finished with five on the afternoon. McKillop is not a coach that completely disregards offensive rebounds, by the way, it was 72nd back in 2011-12 when it won the Southern Conference and gave Louisville (who ended up in the Final Four) a scare in the NCAA Tournament.