Davidson is going back to the NCAA Tournament after knocking off top seed Rhode Island 58-57 in the Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship on Sunday at Capital One Arena behind 17 points from freshman Kellan Grady.
In securing their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2015, the No. 3 seed Wildcats (21-11) trailed at the half and survived a 13-minute field goal drought in the second half to deny No. 25 Rhode Island (25-7) a second consecutive league title.
“It's the most gratifying feeling ever,” Grady said from center court with confetti streaming down through the air after Davidson’s narrow victory.
“From being 5-6 before conference [play] and starting the conference season off with a loss, to battling to come all the way here ... there’s no doubt we’re playing our best basketball right now.”
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Later Sunday, Davidson learned it will face SEC champion Kentucky (24-10) for its NCAA Tournament opener. Kentucky beat Tennessee 77-72 to win its fourth straight conference title.
Grady, who made the All-Tournament team, hit a baseline floater with 1:14 left to score the game’s final points.
Davidson made just six shots in the second half and shot only 38 percent for the game. The Wildcats had shot over 54 percent in each of their first two tournament wins.
The Rams had two final cracks at taking the lead in the final seconds but both Stanford Robinson and Jeff Dotwin came up empty, giving Davidson the ball back with less than a second remaining. E.C. Mathews had a game-high 20 for Rhode Island.
Tournament MVP Peyton Aldridge finished with 13 points but missed his only 3-pointer of the day after knocking down 12 of 13 in Davidson’s first two games.
Davidson entered the game needing to win to make the NCAA Tournament while Rhode Island was playing for a seeding and a chance to win back-to-back conference tournaments for the first time in program history.
The fact that most of the country would be rooting against Davidson wasn’t lost on Aldridge.
“We knew there was a lot of hype going around our game, whether or not we'd be able to sneak a win and get into the tournament,” Aldridge said with the net around his neck after cutting down the final piece. “We just wanted to go out and have fun, forget all that.”
The Wildcats won their first Atlantic 10 Championship since joining the league for the 2014-15 season.
Trailing at the half 33-32, Grady hit consecutive 3-pointers to push Davidson’s lead to 38-33 with18:20 left.
Davidson took its biggest lead of the game at 47-39 with 12:43 left after two Will Magarity free throws but wouldn’t hit another field goal until Grady’s game winner.
Three who mattered
Peyton Aldridge: The Tournament MVP matched teammate Jon Axel Gudmundsson with a team-high seven rebounds to go along with his 13 points.
Kellan Grady: The A-10 Rookie of the Year scored a team-high 17 points, including the game-winner with just over a minute remaining.
Will Magarity: Despite playing just 18 minutes, the senior had three of Davidson’s four blocks.
▪ Next up: Davidson, the No. 12 seed in the in the South Region, will play Kentucky, the No. 5 seed, Thursday at 7:10 p.m. in Boise, Idaho.
▪ The Kentucky - Davidson game is a rematch of a 1986 round-of-64 game in Charlotte. Kentucky won 75-55.
▪ Davidson has now won eight straight conference title games under coach Bob McKilllop going back to 1998. The first seven came in the Southern Conference.
▪ Grady, Aldridge and Gudmundsson all played the entire 40-minute game for Davidson.
▪ Davidson advances to its 14th NCAA Tournament, the ninth under McKillop.
▪ Kentucky leads all NCAA teams with 57 NCAA Tournament appearances.
“I would say I’m sorry but I’m not. We won and we’re going dancing and I couldn’t be happier for our guys.” – Davidson reserve guard Rusty Reigel on how the Wildcats knocked a bubble team out of the NCAA Tournament.
“That’s as good of defense as we’ve played all year long.” – McKillop after Davidson held Rhode Island to 39 percent shooting, including just 31 percent in the second half.
“Foul shots win games.” – McKillop on how his team won despite going for nearly 13 minutes without making a shot. Davidson finished the game 14 of 16 from the free-throw line while Rhode Island made just 9 of 17.
DAVIDSON 58, No. 25 RHODE ISLAND 57
DAVIDSON (21-11): Aldridge 5-12 3-3 13, Michelsen 2-4 3-4 8, Gudmundsson 3-8 3-4 9, Grady 6-13 3-3 17, Pritchett 3-10 0-0 9, Magarity 0-1 2-2 2, Reigel 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 19-50 14-16 58.
RHODE ISLAND (25-7): Berry 4-6 0-2 8, Robinson 1-7 0-0 3, Dowtin 3-9 2-2 9, Matthews 7-16 2-4 20, Terrell 1-5 2-2 5, Langevine 2-4 1-4 5, Garrett 2-2 1-1 6, Russell 0-3 1-2 1. Totals 20-52 9-17 57.
Halftime—Rhode Island 33-32. 3-Point Goals—Davidson 6-18 (Pritchett 3-8, Grady 2-5, Michelsen 1-2, Magarity 0-1, Reigel 0-1, Aldridge 0-1), Rhode Island 8-23 (Matthews 4-8, Garrett 1-1, Robinson 1-3, Terrell 1-3, Dowtin 1-5, Russell 0-3). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Davidson 29 (Gudmundsson, Aldridge 7), Rhode Island 35 (Matthews 8). Assists—Davidson 9 (Gudmundsson 4), Rhode Island 12 (Garrett 4). Total Fouls—Davidson 14, Rhode Island 16. A—7,643 (20,356).