The Davidson Wildcats fought back from a nine-point first half deficit, then survived a back-and-forth second half to come away with a 86-74 win over Appalachian State in the season-opener for both teams at Belk Arena on Saturday night.
Junior forward Peyton Aldridge scored 31 points to lead the Wildcats. Junior guard Rusty Riegel, a former Charlotte Latin standout, added 13 points and freshman guard Jon Axel Gudmundsson 11 for Davidson.
The Wildcats played without their top offensive threat from last season, senior guard Jack Gibbs. One of the leading scorers in the nation last season at 23.6 points per game, he is recovering from a shoulder injury and was on the bench in uniform.
Davidson scored the game’s first basket, but wouldn’t lead again until a couple of minutes into the second half.
Appalachian State, coached by former longtime Davidson assistant Jim Fox, built a lead of nine points at 23-14 on Griffin Kinney’s follow shot 9 minutes and 11 seconds before halftime. But the Wildcats tied the score at 30-30 on a jumper by Nathan Ekwu with four minutes left before another Mountaineers surge left them in front 37-33.
Davidson opened the second half on a 7-2 run and grabbed the lead back at 40-39 on a pair of free throws by Jordan Watkins. The Wildcats emerged from a dozen lead changes and took the lead for good at 70-68 on a three-pointer with 5-1/2 minutes to play.
Three who mattered
Peyton Aldridge, Davidson: Shouldered the scoring load for the Wildcats – the only Davidson player in double figures for most of the game. He hit 11-of-18 shots from the field, including 4-of-6 behind the arc.
Rusty Riegel, Davidson: Scoreless in the first half, he hit some big shots in the second half as the Wildcats pulled away late.
Ronshad Shabazz, Appalachian State: Led a balanced Mountaineers offense with 11 points, including 2-of-5 three-pointers.
In addition to missing Gibbs, the Wildcats didn’t have another starter for much of the game. Boston College transfer Will Magarity, a 6-11 junior forward, had an abbreviated Davidson debut after picking up two fouls in the first five minutes. He finished with six points and one rebound in 13 minutes.
The Wildcats’ next game is against Clemson at 11 a.m. Thursday in the Tire Pros Invitational Tournament in Orlando, Fla., the first of three games in that event. Davidson doesn’t play in Belk Arena again until Nov. 26 against Charlotte.