When you are trying to win the Southern Conference tournament to earn an NCAA bid, it always helps to have the best player in the league.
Davidson boasts that once again this season in senior forward De’Mon Brooks, who proved his worth again Saturday in the Wildcats’ 77-54 quarterfinal demolition of Samford.
In a mid-major league where athleticism often plays a secondary role to craftiness, Brooks provides both those qualities in equal measure. His under-the-basket fakes and jukes are reminiscent of the Charlotte Bobcats’ Al Jefferson, and the Wildcats use him in much the same way.
But Brooks also can explode to the basket in a way few Davidson basketball players have ever been able to. Brooks scored 10 of Davidson’s first 12 points Saturday like this: two three-pointers, a bull-rush layup to the basket, and a pirouetting spin move that led to one of the most vicious, poster-worthy dunks this tournament has ever seen.
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“I was just trying to hit singles,” shrugged Brooks later, alluding to coach Bob McKillop’s theory that a lot of singles are better than trying to constantly hit home runs and striking out frequently. “I took what the defense gave me and just made the basic play.”
That dunk forced Samford coach Bennie Seltzer to call a timeout only 3:19 into the game, but the break didn’t help. Brooks ended up with 26 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in another dominating game for the Wildcats, who have now won 13 straight.
“Brooks is the best player in our league,” Seltzer said. “In terms of trying to stop him, nobody has stopped him all year. We’re right in that same boat.”
Davidson will face Western Carolina Sunday at 6 p.m. The winner of that semifinal gains a spot in Monday’s 9 p.m. final, which will crown the conference champion and its lone NCAA representative.
Brooks was named the conference’s Player of the Year for the second time a few days ago. The Charlotte native who once starred at Hopewell High averaged 18.4 points and seven rebounds per game this season while shooting 59 percent from the floor.
“He’s really learned to see the game,” McKillop said. “He’s not just an athlete. He has become a basketball player. He’s making reads, seeing opportunities to help – 95 percent of the game is played without the ball in your hands and he’s learned to become very efficient in that time period.”
Said Brooks: “I used to try to go out and get the game. But now I let the game come to me.”
Still, one part of Brooks’ legacy at Davidson was heartbreaking. A year ago, he made a huge turnover in the final seconds of Davidson’s 59-58 NCAA defeat against Marquette – a miscue that played a big part in the Wildcats blowing a seven-point lead in the game’s final 109 seconds. Brooks was trying to get rid of the ball to get it to a better free-throw shooter, but instead fired it out of bounds.
“I don’t think about that anymore,” Brooks said. “It was just one of those things that happens.”
Brooks said this Davidson team is plenty good enough to win the Southern Conference and make some NCAA noise again. He also knows it may not go anywhere if he has a poor game or fouls out.
As Appalachian State coach Jason Capel said of Davidson: “If everything else breaks down, they just throw the ball to De’Mon.”