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Davidson Wildcats Dominate Dayton Flyers Behind Hot Shooting, Strong Defense

Davidson was picked last in the Atlantic 10 conference to begin the season because no one felt they belonged. They proved all those voters wrong Tuesday night with their domination of No. 22 Dayton.

Curtis Wilson-USA TODAY Sports

At the beginning of the season, Davidson was picked last in the Atlantic 10. The Wildcats might have had the strength to still be a force in the Southern Conference, but this new conference, it was way too strong.

It seems like there may have been a slight miscalculation, perhaps in the planning ability of coach Bob McKillop.

Or maybe this team is just as it has always been: one that will compete as hard as possible against any team on its schedule.

We saw this during the nonconference season, when Davidson went 9-2, losing only to North Carolina (at the time No. 6 in the country) and to Virginia, a team that is now receiving votes as the top team in the county.

And we saw it again Tuesday night as Davidson competed its heart out, surrounded by its red, white and black-clad fans, as it trounced Dayton, 77-60.

Let's keep this in mind: Davidson has lost four games this season, all except the loss to Richmond coming against teams ranked in the AP Top 25, and they just beat the No. 22 team in the country, one that had looked almost invincible over the past month, even as they dismissed two key players in their rotation at the beginning of the year.

So yes, this Davidson team is ready to compete, and other teams better be ready, and maybe we should have realized this by now. If you needed the signature win to see that, now you have it.

There are any number of reasons why the Wildcats won Tuesday night. Perhaps it was their ability to shoot and shoot and shoot and have it seem like the basket was a mile wide. It is hard to beat a team that hits 51.7 percent of its shots.

It is even harder to beat a team that makes 52.2 percent of its shots from behind the 3-point arc, a total of 12 made 3-pointers.

But that is too facile to explain Davidson's win. The Wildcats have advanced beyond that narrative, one that drove their story back when Stephen Curry wore the red and white. They don't need to shoot the three to win now. They have other ways. It was just one reason why they achieved its first top 25 win since 2011 on Tuesday.

Look instead at how they forced 16 turnovers from Dayton, and turned them into just as many points on the offensive end. Empty possessions, especially with how well the Flyers shot on the night, are a big reason for the loss.

Add in that the Wildcats totally closed out Jordan Sibert when he had been carrying the Flyers in the first half. The Wildcats shut him down as they surged ahead and made any subsequent damage by Sibert (23 points, 4 assists) irrelevant.

Then look at the performance if its athletes on the floor, especially Peyton Aldridge. The freshman turned out an impressive game that probably has him in line for multiple rookie honors this week. Count 22 points, and 4-for-5 from 3-point range, along with six rebounds, three assists and a block. While most freshman would shy away in big games like this, he actually improved on every average he has put up this season.

Of course there was also Tyler Kalinowski, the leading scorer from the Wildcats, also scoring 22 points in the win. And this was without Jack Gibbs, who was the second leading scorer for Davidson in the previous 16 games this year.

This is the new Davidson.

Consider the history here. The Wildcats have previously been built to go deep into the NCAA Tournament and then underachieved. They have slogged through a lackluster nonconference slate, and then stumbled as the Southern Conference season has begun.

The attitude was always this: Don't worry, we will be fine come conference tournament time, and get to the NCAA Tournament.

That wasn't win in the NCAA Tournament; it was get there.

This teams seems to be focused differently. They have a different challenge in front of them. They have played amazingly well against the best teams in the country. They have come into a more difficult conference and not taken a step backwards after a very good nonconference season.

This is a team that seems to have a mission in front of it.

That mission achieved a major win Tuesday night, one that could propel this team far beyond just a tally in the win column. This could be the Davidson team that makes good on the promise of those that came before, and they are doing it in all the right ways.

Welcome to the Atlantic 10, Davidson; you certainly have proven you belong.