Wednesday was a good night for Davidson in the Atlantic 10.
Not only did the Wildcats beat George Mason 92-71 at Belk Arena, but they nudged themselves a little closer to the top of the conference standings.
With losses Wednesday by co-leaders Virginia Commonwealth and Rhode Island, as well as George Washington, the Wildcats (16-6, 7-4) moved to within one game of first place.
“Twenty-two games into it (overall) and we’re 7-4 in this league,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said of his team’s season, its first in the Atlantic 10. “I’d say it’s a pretty good statement of where we are.”
The A-10 standings, already jumbled entering Wednesday’s games, became more so by the end of the night. No. 20 VCU (8-3 in the league) lost to La Salle 74-69 in double overtime; Rhode Island (8-3) fell 65-64 to Saint Joseph’s and George Washington (7-4) lost to Duquesne 78-62.
Massachusetts (8-3) beat St. Bonaventure 55-53 to pull into a four-way tie for first with VCU, Rhode Island and idle Dayton, leaving Davidson and George Washington tied for fifth, one game out.
As crazy as things were elsewhere around the league, there was never any question about how Davidson’s evening would turn out.
With guard Brian Sullivan scoring 19 points (all in the first half) and guard Tyler Kalinoski and forward Jordan Barham each adding 18, the Wildcats never trailed against George Mason (7-16, 2-9), a team they struggled to beat in overtime two weeks ago.
Although both teams played well offensively, the difference was the Wildcats’ 3-point shooting (12-of-28) and free-throw shooting (26-of-32). Although the Patriots made 55.8 percent of their shots from the field and outrebounded Davidson 35-29, they made just one-of-eight 3-pointers and were 12-of-26 from the line.
“I actually thought we played pretty well defensively,” said McKillop. “But when you’re making shots like we were …”
Davidson played with its usual efficiency on offense, with 21 assists on its 27 baskets. The Wildcats committed just eight turnovers.
They were kick-started by Sullivan, who passed the 1,000-point mark for his career – one season at Miami (Ohio) and two at Davidson. Sullivan, who is averaging 18.6 points over the last five games, hit two 3-pointers in the first three minutes as the Wildcats jumped to a 14-4 lead.
“I’m having a lot of fun lately, playing free,” said Sullivan, who also had seven assists. “I’m glad I could set the tone early.”
Barham, a 6-foot-4 junior, is having to play inside to help make up for the absence of 6-9 Jake Belford, who’s out for the season with a knee injury. Barham had four rebounds Wednesday, but most of his points came under the basket against larger Patriots players like 6-11 Shevon Thompson, the nation’s third-leading rebounder who had 13 boards and 14 points.
“Being a smaller guy, I have to work a little harder,” said Barham, who had surgery last summer to repair torn meniscus in his right knee. “But I’m doing the little things, like boxing out and I try to out jump them.”
The Wildcats played again without leading scorer Jack Gibbs, who has missed six games with a knee injury. McKillop said Gibbs continues to progress with his rehab and wouldn’t rule him out of returning Saturday at La Salle.
The game against the Explorers begins a tough two-game road trip that concludes Feb. 18 at George Washington.