College Basketball

Davidson, Charlotte renew rivalry with freshmen in key roles

Torin Dorn attended high school in Mecklenburg County, so he knows all about the Charlotte 49ers-Davidson basketball rivalry, which will renew at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Wildcats’ Belk Arena.

“It’s personal and it’s a big rivalry,” said Dorn, a 49ers freshman guard who played at Vance High. “The environment is going to be hostile.”

Dorn won’t be the only freshman playing for a first time for the Hornet’s Nest Trophy. Both teams rely heavily on first-year players: Dorn and guard Keyshawn Woods for Charlotte (4-2); forwards Peyton Aldridge, Oskar Michelsen and Nathan Ekwu for Davidson (4-1).

Perhaps Dorn spoke for all of them this week when asked about the adjustment he has made from high school to Division I college basketball:

“I think I’ve been here long enough, with the summer workouts and practicing in the fall, to know the system pretty well now,” he said. “And being around the guys for several months now, I feel like I’m fitting in well.”

Dorn has established himself as one of the top rookies in Conference USA, being named the league’s freshman of the week for his recent performances against then-No. 17 Miami (17 points) and UNC Asheville (13).

Davidson’s Aldridge won the Atlantic 10’s weekly freshman honor two weeks ago after scoring 25 points in a 90-72 loss against then-No. 6 North Carolina.

Much is being asked of Aldridge, Michelsen and Ekwu. Coach Bob McKillop said last summer he would have to begin recruiting players who can flourish in the more-competitive Atlantic 10, rather than the Southern Conference, where the Wildcats played on and off since 1936.

“They committed to Davidson after we joined the A-10, so we probably wouldn’t have been attractive to them without that,” McKillop said of the trio. “They all have a unique sense of balance. They want to be great, and will work at it, but they also are balancing that with teamwork, which is a sign of maturity.”

Aldridge, 6-foot-7, leads the Wildcats in rebounding (6.8 per game) and averages 12.0 points (with a 3-point shooting percentage of 52.9).

Michelsen, a native of Helsinki, Finland, averages 7.8 points and makes 50 percent of his 3-pointers for a team that averages 11.4 made 3s per game.

At 6-7, Ekwu is Davidson’s blocks leader at 1.2 per game.

The more-experienced 49ers aren’t as reliant on freshmen, but Dorn and Woods are coach Alan Major’s first options off the bench.

“I don’t know if they’re on schedule, but it’s hard to know with freshmen what the schedule is,” said Major. “We’ve been trying to close the experience gap with them. But it’s a fine line: You want that to happen, but you can’t speed it up.”

Dorn, whose father Torin Dorn was a defensive back at North Carolina and played seven seasons in the NFL, averages 9.5 points and 3.2 assists. He’s quite an athlete, attested by his alley-oop dunk on a fast break during the late stages at UNC Asheville.

Woods, last season’s N.C. Gatorade High School Player of the Year at Northside Christian while playing for former 49ers star Byron Dinkins, is making 66.7 percent of his 3-point attempt and appears to be Charlotte’s future point guard after senior Pierria Henry graduates.

“I’m very happy with how they’re doing,” said Major. “The better they play, the better off we are. And they’re helping us grow our bench.”