Davidson went about capturing its first Atlantic 10 regular-season championship in high style.
The Wildcats, a preseason pick to finish 12th in their first season in the league, trounced Duquesne 107-78 Saturday at the Palumbo Center, unleashing all their offensive weapons in brutally effective fashion.
In winning their ninth consecutive game, the Wildcats (23-6, 14-4) shot 61.5 percent from the field, including making a school-record 20 3-pointers. Davidson was borderline flawless in its offensive efficiency, with 35 assists on 40 made baskets and only seven turnovers.
“This is an incredibly special feeling for a group of kids who never stopped believing,” said Wildcats coach Bob McKillop. “There were a lot of doubts about us coming into the Atlantic 10, whether we would have to walk before we ran, whether we’d be good enough. But these kids believed.”
The regular-season championship is the 24th in Davidson history. The Wildcats won 23 in the Southern Conference before leaving for the Atlantic 10 this season.
Senior guard Tyler Kalinoski scored a career-high 32 points to lead the Wildcats. Kalinoski was 12 of 14 from the field (including 8-of-10 3-pointers) and also had five rebounds and nine assists. Jordan Barham added 20 points and Jack Gibbs 19.
The Wildcats actually had already clinched the top spot in the A-10 tournament earlier in the day when Dayton, which was tied with the Wildcats entering Saturday’s games, lost to La Salle. All that was left was a victory against Duquesne to ensure Davidson of the league’s outright regular-season championship.
McKillop, however, didn’t tell his players about the Flyers’ loss before taking the floor against the Dukes.
“That’s fine, I probably would prefer not knowing coming into the game that we had already won the (top seed),” said Kalinoski. “We didn’t want to play on our heels. We wanted to attack.”
That’s just what Davidson did, although it took about 12 minutes for the Wildcats to impose their will on a Dukes team they had beaten by 26 points at Belk Arena in February.
The game was tied at 30 8 minutes, 15 seconds left in the half when the Wildcats went on a game-deciding tear. Davidson outscored the Dukes 25-3 during the remainder of the half.
The half ended with Davidson up 55-33. The Wildcats made 12-of-19 3-pointers , a 63.2 percent mark that was better than the 60.6 percent overall mark they had for the half.
Kalinoski had 21 points by halftime, going 8 of 9 from the field, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range.
The victory improved Davidson’s chances of an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament, although the Wildcats will now enter the A-10 tournament as solid favorites to earn the league’s automatic bid. Davidson will open the postseason against the winner of eighth-seeded Massachusetts and No. 9 seed La Salle.
“We’re exactly where we want to be – playing our best basketball of the season,” said Kalinoski. “That’s what we’re doing, and if we keep doing that, we’ll be fine.”
Scott: 705-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14