If there’s any pressure that’s been building on the Davidson Wildcats in what has now become a seven-game winning streak, they’re not showing it.
Well, maybe a bit. But it's not making much difference to the Wildcats.
“I sensed for the first time year that they did feel some pressure,” said Wildcats coach Bob McKillop after his team beat George Washington 77-66 in an Atlantic 10 game Saturday at sold-out Belk Arena. “They’ve been looking at the standings. They’re very aware of what’s going on.”
The Wildcats (21-6, 12-4), however, shook off that tightness to hold off the stubborn Colonials (18-11, 8-8) and retain a share of first place in A-10 with Rhode Island and Dayton. Virginia Commonwealth, the Wildcats’ opponent Thursday, dropped into fourth place after losing to Dayton on Saturday.
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Davidson remained the hottest team in the league with the victory. The Wildcats’ offense, among the most productive in the country, continued to hum along with 14-of-29 3-point shooting (they were nine-of-26 from inside the arc). Davidson, which entered the game second in the nation in assist-turnover ratio 1.76), did better than that against George Washington (15 assists, four turnovers).
“We fought all 40 minutes,” said Wildcats guard Jordan Barham (17 points, nine rebounds). “We started a little sluggish. We sensed a little pressure.”
There was that word again – pressure. Since Davidson’s 60-59 victory at Rhode Island on Wednesday, McKillop said the Wildcats have been paying closer attention to where they stand in the league, as well as their constantly increasing chances of making the NCAA tournament.
“I looked in their eyes coming from Rhode Island and the pregame meal (Saturday),” said McKillop. “There’s no doubt they’re looking at the big picture, seeing where they might fit in.”
McKillop said he will do all he can to keep the Wildcats mentally on track. Victories Thursday at home against VCU and at Duquesne next Saturday would mean a regular-season championship in their first season in the A-10 and the top seed in next week’s league tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I try to be disciplined about it, stay focused,” said McKillop. “I’m not thinking about byes, first place and what-ifs. I don’t think about what-ifs.”
But despite the double-figure victory, Saturday’s game was anything but easy against the Colonials.
Despite the offensive output, the Wildcats struggled to put any distance between themselves and the Colonials. That was mostly because George Washington outrebounded Davidson 39-29 and scored 13 second-chance points. The Colonials bench also outscored Davidson’s 12-0.
The Wildcats pushed their lead to 16 points (67-51) with 6 minutes, 13 seconds left when Barham converted a three-point play. But the Colonials scored 10 straight, forcing McKillop to call a timeout.
That settled the Wildcats who went on a 5-0 run put George Washington away.
“In the second half, we played with rhythm and abandon,” said McKillop. “I was delighted with that.”
Junior guard Brian Sullivan led Davidson’s 3-point barrage, making six-of-10 for 21 points. Guard Jack Gibbs had 22 points and Tyler Kalinoski added 11. Defensively, freshman forward Peyton Aldridge blocked four shots.
George Washington also played a solid offensive game, making 11-of-20 3-pointers and getting 20 points from guard Joe McDonald.