Memo to any team that sees Davidson crop up opposite their name on NCAA tournament Selection Sunday.
You might be getting this year's Winthrop.
The Wildcats, doing what Winthrop did to teams last year, smothered the Eagles with defense, played with poise, seemed to get to every loose ball and every long rebound and eased to a 60-47 win on Friday night in the first game of the ESPNU BracketBuster weekend.
And bracket buster might be appropriate for the Wildcats, who won their 17th straight game. They just might bust up a bunch of brackets come March.
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While he stopped short of saying the Wildcats could be an at-large team if they don't win the Southern Conference tournament, Winthrop coach Randy Peele said "without question, they are NCAA-worthy."
"People were talking about us last year as a possible at-large team," Peele said, "and I've said all along they are very similar to where we were last season."
Perhaps it was fitting that the game was played in front of a packed house of more than 6,000 fans. It had the feel of an NCAA tournament game. Peele called it a "second round" atmosphere.
"And I say that," he said, "because it was like our game last year with Oregon. We had one day to prepare, and they are very hard to prepare for in one day."
The WIldcats (21-6) held Winthrop (18-10) to a season low for points, their second lowest shooting percentage (30) and beat them on the glass 37-32.
Max Paulhus Gosselin, with long arms attached to a 6-6 frame, was the point man on the defense, guarding the point, the wing, even the big men.
"He's like a spider man," Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. "He sets the tone."
And on top of that, Davidson played with the kind of poise the Eagles showed a year ago when they went through the Big South unbeaten and whipped Notre Dame in the NCAAs.
They did it with Stephen Curry having an off night. Curry came in averaging better than 25 points, fifth in the nation, but was held to 4-of-14 shooting and a season-low 12 points, mostly by Mantoris Robinson with a little help from Michael Jenkins.
McKillop said Curry "is a legitimate All-America candidate, but the game showed that if he doesn't have an All-America game, we have enough firepower to carry the day."
Winthrop played well enough on the defensive end to win, holding the Wildcats 20 points below their average and to 36-percent shooting. But the Wildcats got the firepower they needed from point guard Jason Richards, who finished with 21 points, his first 20-point game since the ninth game of the year. He hit 5-of-11 3-pointers, handed out five assists and played 38 gritty minutes.
"I told our team Steph Curry is their most outstanding player," Peele said, "but Richards is their most valuable player. He's the straw that stirs the drink."
"He was shooting lights out," Winthrop point guard Chris Gaynor said.
Here's how good the Wildcats and Richards were.
With 10:14 to go in the first half and Davidson up 20-8, Curry was whistled for his second foul. As he walked slowly to the bench, where he'd stay for the rest of the half, it appeared the Eagles had an opening to at least get back in the game.
Instead, the Wildcats lost just two points of the lead by playing smothering defense, passing the ball with precision and not going into a panic with their best player sitting and watching. Richards had eight of their last 11 points.
"I told Steph I felt like him in the first half," Richards said. "When he went out, I had to step up. My shot felt good."
Because they were playing some pretty good defense, too, the Eagles managed to hang around, and when Jenkins drove baseline for a one-handed dunk to cut the lead to 39-31 with 12:53 left, the crowd was rocking and the Eagles appeared to be rolling.
But over the next three minutes, they committed three fouls, missed five shots -- three of them not very good ones -- and were beaten to loose balls three times.
Up 41-31, the Wildcats out-scrapped the Eagles for two offensive rebounds on the same possession and that led to Curry's only 3-pointer of the second half. But it was a beauty from deep, and held the finish nicely at the top of the key as the ball whistled through the net for a 44-31 lead.
The Wildcats scored on their next four possessions in a 10-2 run that pushed the lead to 51-33 with 7:10 to go. Winthrop got no closer than nine the rest of the way.
"It's one thing to beat teams you're more talented than, but you've got to execute to beat good teams," Peele said.
Peele said his team got a little "individualistic," instead of sticking with the offense.
Jenkins missed 13 of his 17 shots overall and eight of his 10 3-pointers to finished with 10 points. Taj McCullough battled his way to 15, but hit just 4-of-13 shots. He also had 10 rebounds.
Chris Gaynor, who was battling a sore throat, led the Eagles with 16, hitting 6-of-9 shots, the one offensive bright spot.
"I don't think they really kept us out of our offense," Gaynor said. "We just missed shots. If we'd made half the shots we missed, we'd have won by 10. We just couldn't make the shots."
McKillop said his team, which had been ranked in the top 25 earlier in the year but fell victim to a killer schedule against ranked opponents -- just like Winthrop last year -- felt some pressure.
"It felt like a first-round NIT game," he said, probably hoping he won't have that feeling again this year.
Now, both teams have to regroup and get ready to close out conference play next week. Peele said he thought his team would bounce back.
"We're disappointed we didn't win," Peele said, "but these last two weeks are the most important two weeks of our lives."
ON THE WEB
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