Scott Fowler

Surprisingly smooth sailing in Atlantic 10 for Davidson Wildcats

This was supposed to be Davidson’s transition year, a season full of struggles in its new Atlantic 10 conference. The Wildcats were picked to finish 12th in the 14-team league just before the season began by a panel of coaches and media.

But Davidson is doing something downright weird in its new home conference: Winning. The Wildcats’ best example of the season came Tuesday night, when No. 22 Dayton came into Belk Arena and got thrashed 77-60 by an inspired Davidson squad.

Davidson did it without Jack Gibbs, who has been the conference’s player of the week twice and averages 15.8 points per game. Gibbs was a late scratch because of a knee injury. And still Davidson rolled over a Dayton team that was tied for No. 1 in the league entering the night.

Dayton made the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight a season ago. The Flyers had won eight straight games and had not allowed more than 75 points all season – until Tuesday.

“They played the way great teams do,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said of the Wildcats.

Davidson also had started the season strongly, but then it lost by 26 to Richmond on Saturday. Those were the types of losses the Wildcats were supposed to sustain as they tried to figure out the above-the-rim version of basketball played in a conference much more athletic than their old Southern home.

Yet it turns out not to matter if you can make 3-pointers and buy into Bob McKillop’s team-first, intense approach, and Davidson almost always can do that. The fifth-best 3-point shooting team in America (10.6 per game), Davidson made 12 more in 23 tries Tuesday.

Davidson (13-4, 4-2) entered tied for fourth in the league and exited feeling even better. The old Davidson traditions – “Sweet Caroline” being played at the eight-minute timeout, McKillop looking immaculate in another dark suit – work beautifully when you are shooting that well.

And the future looks good, too. Davidson was led in scoring Tuesday by a freshman, as Peyton Aldridge had 22 points. The only senior in the Wildcats’ regular rotation is standout guard Tyler Kalinoski (21 points Tuesday).

Joining the A-10 allowed Davidson to play games like Tuesday’s – the first time the Wildcats had hosted a Top-25 team in its on-campus arena in nearly three years. But who knew the Wildcats would be so ready to win them?

Related stories from Charlotte Observer