By Ken Cross
For nearly 30 minutes Friday night, the Davidson Wildcats owned the Rhode Island Rams, who were a much more physical and a much more athletic opponent. When guard Jack Gibbs scored on a layup off a steal to give the Wildcats a 51-42 lead with 11:18 to play, it appeared Davidson had Rhode Island on the ropes.
From there though, the game flipped in a hurry as the Rams’ pressure defense, especially in the half-court, started to take Davidson out of it’s sets and force turnovers and it also forced DC to be short on it’s jump shots en route to a 70-59 win in the competitive Atlantic 10 Conference Showcase on ESPN2.
That defensive pressure further allowed some leak outs for layups or fouls in transition and then it caused Davidson to be late to it’s spots on defense. Rhody leading scorer E.C. Matthews took advantage as he made two key threes that gave the Rams room to breath late in the game. That nine-point deficit turned into a 64-57 Rhody lead with 2:52 remaining late in the contest.
“They made the catch tough, the dribble tough, and the same for the shot,” said Davidson coach Bob McKillop, “When we shoot the way we did and when you shoot the way we did from the three-point line, I think 70-59 is a little misleading as a score.”
The continual harassing of the Wildcats by the Rams, who were nine deep, wore Davidson down as the Wildcats only scored one field goal from that 11:18 mark where they were up by nine until there were five seconds left when Peyton Aldridge scored on a stick back with five seconds remaining. The Wildcats had few answers to the Rhody depth with Brandon Watkins, Nathan Ekwu, and Dusan Kovasevic, who were sidelined with various injuries.
Gibbs and Aldridge, the number one (21.8 ppg.) and number two (21.7 ppg.) leading scorers in the Atlantic 10, respectively, had little room to set up and find their shots. Gibbs finished 2-of-13 from the floor while Aldridge finished 3-of-9. Aldridge picked up his fourth foul with 9:53 remaining and the Wildcats holding a 52-45 advantage. When he came back in nearly four minutes late, Davidson had fallen behind for good at 56-54.
“Peyton was out of the game and the number of bodies we have to play…,” said McKillop, who had only one player off the bench, Rusty Reigel, log double figures in minutes, “I am not trying to make excuses. We had exhausted ourselves with what we did defensively for 30 minutes. We just could not sustain anymore and they could.”
Matthews was steller in the clutch in scoring 10 of his 21 points in a five minute stretch with less than eight and a half minutes to play. Joining him on offense was freshman point guard Jeff Dowtin, who has started Rhode Island’s last six games in which they have won five. Dowtin finished with a carrier high 19 points as he kept Rhody in business early in this game with 12 points in the first half.
“It gave me a lot of confidence throughout the game when I hit my first couple of shots,” noted Dowtin, who has a three-to-one asset-to-turnover rail over his last 10 games, “I gave out great assists to my teammates and tried to push the tempo.”