Davidson guard Jack Gibbs entered Wednesday’s game against Eastern Washington as the nation’s fifth-leading scorer.
Gibbs did little to hurt that standing against the Eagles, scoring 37 points in a 96-86 victory at Belk Arena in the first game for both teams in the Gotham Classic.
“When Jack plays within the system, the system and he will be a great marriage,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. “He’s got extraordinary ability; he’s crafty, has a great feel for the game, with great wrists and long arms.”
After struggling in a loss Sunday against then-No. 9 North Carolina, Gibbs and the Wildcats (6-1) subdued an Eastern Washington team that played in last season’s NCAA tournament and has the Big Sky’s preseason player of the year in forward Venky Jois (21 points, 14 rebounds).
Gibbs, who had 23 points at halftime, is averaging 26.6 points and has scored 35 or more four times this season. He was one of three 20-plus scorers for the game for the Wildcats, with guards Brian Sullivan and Jordan Barham both scoring 22.
Like Davidson, Eastern Washington emphasizes the 3-point shot. The Eagles averaged 29.4 3-point attempts coming into the game (making 10.9). The Eagles made 10 of 27 against Davidson but made just two in the first nine minutes.
“Three-pointers can really demoralize you,” McKillop said. “After our loss Sunday, we had the potential to get demoralized early in the game. That was something in my mind. But we were very, very efficient in not allowing 3s.”
The Wildcats took control midway through the first half after Eastern Washington took a 14-12 lead on two free throws by Bear Henderson. But a Gibbs-fueled 11-3 run gave Davidson a 21-17 lead that the Wildcats wouldn’t relinquish.
Three who mattered
Jack Gibbs: Davidson guard scored 37 points, making 12 of 17 shots (6-of-9 from 3-point range), also had six assists and two steals.
Jordan Barham: Darted through Eastern Washington for 22 points (making a 3-pointer for good measure). Also had team-high eight rebounds.
Austin McBroom: Wildcats knew about McBroom, the Eagles point guard who is a graduate transfer who played last season for Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10. McBroom, along with Jois, kept Eastern Washington in this one, scoring 33 points.
▪ Here’s how good it was going for Gibbs in the first half. He hit a leaning 3-pointer (trying to draw a foul) at the buzzer that banked in.
▪ Davidson’s Nathan Ekwu made a huge difference defensively. Ekwu, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, blocked four shots and grabbed six rebounds. He also had nine points.
▪ Sullivan had been struggling with his shot, going 3-for-10 against North Carolina and starting Wednesday’s game missing his first three 3-point attempts. But he ended up going 8-of-14 and made six of his final eight 3-point attempts.
▪ The Eagles have a connection from Down Under: Starting forwards Jesse Hunt, Felix Von Hofe and Jois are Aussies. Another starter, forward Bogdan Bliznyuk, is from Ukraine.
▪ Eastern Washington is on a three-game, six-day road trip, with other Gotham Classic games scheduled for Friday at Pittsburgh and Dec. 14 at Western Carolina. The games against Davidson and the Catamounts are Eastern Washington’s first in North Carolina.
▪ Davidson forward Jake Belford didn’t play after sustaining a concussion against North Carolina. McKillop said Belford also won’t play Saturday against Western Carolina.
▪ McKillop used a short rotation, playing just seven players (Ekwu and guard Jordan Watkins joining the starters). McKillop said matchups with Eastern Washington weren’t favorable for backup forward Andrew McAuliffe and guard Rusty Reigel to see playing time.
They said it
“He was a presence in the paint. He created chaos.” – McKillop on Ekwu’s play.
“In years past, I’d let that get to me a little. But the way the coaches coach us, they have a great deal of confidence in me.” – Sullivan, who broke out of a brief shooting slump.
“I’ve been taking those shots pretty much all year. But I’ve been missing those bunnies (short-range shots) early in the season. Now I’ve started making them.” – Barham.