All week long, Bob McKillop tried not to make a big deal out of Davidson’s first-ever Atlantic 10 game against Richmond.
But the Wildcats’ 26-year coach admitted afterwards that Saturday’s 81-67 victory over the Spiders at Belk Arena was big, in more ways than one.
“It’s pretty darn special,” McKillop said after Davidson (10-2, 1-0 A-10) won its fourth straight conference opener. “I’ve tried to dispel emotion myself, tried not to think about it, just to lock into the game and not realize the magnitude of it.
“But this was a big freakin’ experience for Davidson College, to be in this conference. This is the real deal, this conference.”
Jack Gibbs scored a game-high 32 points, Tyler Kalinoski had 21 and Andrew McAuliffe came off the bench to add 10 points for the Wildcats, who held a 45-32 margin at the half and led by as many as 16 points in Saturday’s game.
“We executed pretty well today,” said Gibbs, who scored 23 points in the first half. “We’ve been looking forward to this game. There was a lot of adrenaline coming in.”
Davidson shot 52.9 percent from the field (27 of 51), including 9 of 25 on 3-pointers, and hit 18 of 23 free throws. Meanwhile, while Richmond shot 46.4 percent (26 of 56), the Wildcats held the Spiders to 5 of 16 on 3-pointers, and also outrebounded them 34-25.
“We really worked on drills where we were screening our own man instead of cutting right away,” Kalinoski said. “We did that so much that when it came game time, it was just habit.”
However, Richmond (7-7, 0-1) rallied to make a game of things early in the second half, pulling within five points twice – the last at 47-42 with 15 minutes, 56 seconds remaining.
That was a repeat of Davidson’s previous game – against No. 3 Virginia on Tuesday, the Wildcats held a six-point halftime lead only to see the Cavaliers make an early run and get back in contention.
But unlike Tuesday’s loss, Davidson quickly put down the Spiders’ rally. Kalinoski hit a pair of 3-pointers during a 10-4 run to push the Wildcats’ lead back to double digits. Richmond would pull no closer than eight points the rest of the way.
“We had the same eerie first minute, two minutes, and all of a sudden they climbed right back into it,” McKillop said.
“But our guys learned a lesson. There’s no greater joy for a coach than seeing your guys learn an emotional lesson like that.”
Anthony Kendall scored 15 points, Terry Allen 14 and T.J. Cline 13 for the Spiders, who have now lost three straight.