Men’s Basketball Dominates in Home Opener

Sam Thomas-

Kellan Grady ‘21 was a national-caliber recruit in high school, and he demonstrated why with a 23-point performance in his first collegiate game. Photo by Davidson Athletics

Davidson men’s basketball is back and hit the ground running to open its season in a win against Charleston Southern last Friday night. Ten different players recorded points as compared to only one turnover committed throughout the game. After one game, the team’s assists to turnover ratio of 29-to-1 is the best in the NCAA by 24.4. The 26 made three-point shots was both a single-game program and Atlantic 10 record. All in all, the year is young, but opening night foreshadowed promise for the rest of the season.

The ‘Cats saw four players tally 18 points or more on opening night. Sophomore Jon Axel Gudmundsson scored 24, first-year Kellan Grady scored 23, and seniors Peyton Aldridge and Oskar Michelsen each recorded 18. The four of them combined 22-36 from deep (61%) with only Gudmundsson playing more than 20 minutes. On the hot shooting night, senior Oskar Michelsen noted that, “our ball movement helped us to get so many open looks from deep. It for sure gave me a nice confidence boost. I was struggling with my shot last year and it is great to see it fall early in the season.” Michelsen was individually 6-9 from 3-point range.

The offensive barrage was matched by only allowing the visiting Buccaneers to shoot 40% from the field with 14 turnovers as compared to the one turnover from the ‘Cats. This kind of defensive effort came without big men Nathan Ekwu and Will McGarity, who were both sidelined with injuries and did not suit up for Friday night’s game. This led to Michelsen and sophomore Dusan Kovacevic picking up big minutes down low and pesky defense from the guards, especially senior Rusty Reigel, who picked up three steals in the contest. Said Michelsen on the senior leader, “Rusty is doing a tremendous job leading the team every day.” Reigel’s scrappy defensive energy is contagious and the ‘Cats look to keep up that trend throughout the season.

On the other side of the ball, the one Davidson turnover came from a rare full-court press midway through the first half. The ‘Cats already had a 38-13 lead at that point. Other than that one miscue, the Davidson offense was perfectly clean throughout the game. Michelson reiterated the importance of ball security, noting, “Taking care of the ball is one of the things Coach McKillop emphasizes every day and it is something we really try to maintain as the season goes on.”

Perhaps one of the most exciting elements of the opening night, however, was the visible potential unfolding in front of a full Belk Arena in the form of first-year Kellan Grady. The ‘Cats are in a unique position this year in that they have both senior leadership in the form of Peyton Aldridge, who has received many well-deserved preseason accolades and quietly put together an 18 point and 8 rebound performance, along with tremendous youth talent. Grady brought fans to their feet as he hit his first four 3 point attempts and assisted on three others in the first five minutes of the game. In total, he accounted for 21 of the team’s first 24 points. To say the performance was satisfactory would be an extreme understatement. On the impact the first-years have had on the team, Michelsen stated, “The freshmen have really impressed everyone with their talent and it always gives a nice boost when they are ready to play as well as they have since day one.”

Other conference foes did not find the same success that the Davidson men did coming out of the gates. Last year’s conference runner-up and perennial national powerhouse Dayton narrowly squeaked out a one-point win against Ball State and St. Bonaventure, another consistent face in the NCAA tournament, lost its season opener against Niagara University 77-75. Last year’s A-10 champions, Rhode Island, won its opener against UNC Asheville 84-60.

With such a promising opening game, the Cats’ looked to carry momentum forward in their second game last night against the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks. The ‘Cats were back in action on Tuesday night where they pulled out the victory against the Seahawks of UNC-Wilmington 108-81. The ‘Cats are now averaging 109 points per game on the season and were propelled by Peyton Aldridge’s 37 point performance. This was highlighted by 26 points in the first half and two 3-pointers in the final minute of the half to give the ‘Cats an 18 point lead going into the intermission.

Ball security was another consistent theme for Davidson in this game. They committed just 6 turnovers to 23 assists – making their margin on the year an NCAA leading 7.42 assists to turnovers on the season. Defensively, they forced 12 turnovers as compared to the one forced turnover from the Seahawks. The other five for the ‘Cats were unforced.

The win was a great résumé-building win for the Davidson team as the Seahawks have made the tournament each of the last two seasons. They have another opportunity against the Wolfpack of Nevada, who have made the tournament each of the last four seasons, as they travel to Reno on Tuesday. The Wolfpack is off to a hot start as well, having won their first two games.