Wildcats qualify for NCAA Tournament
by Staff Writer
by Cliff Mehrtens
Davidson College is in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament for the first time in four years.
The Wildcats earned an automatic bid into the 68-team, month-long tournament by defeating Western Carolina, 93-91, in double overtime in the championship game of the Southern Conference tournament in Asheville March 5.
The game, which began at 9 p.m., nearly stretched to midnight with a series of exciting plays. Top seed Davidson (25-7) appeared to have the victory secured with a 13-point lead with less than three minutes remaining in regulation.
Third-seeded Western Carolina, playing its fourth game in four nights, rallied to force overtime.
At the end of the first overtime, Davidson forward De’Mon Brooks had a chance to win it, but his 14-foot jumper rattled off the rim.
“I thought it was in,” said Brooks, a Hopewell High graduate who was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. “I was ready to run down court (in celebration). But we had to keep playing.”
The teams traded leads in both overtimes before a raucous crowd of 6,849 at U.S. Cellular Center. The second overtime was close before Davidson’s Clint Mann drove the baseline and dunked with 63 seconds left for a 93-91 lead.
“We did a terrific job of creating a lane for Clint,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said of the winning shot. “We tell them they’re unleashed, they’re freed up and to take what’s there. But you must see the game. He saw the open lane and we had it sealed inside, and Clint went inside and threw it home like a man.”
The Wildcats then had to withstand Western Carolina’s final two possessions. The Catamounts’ Keaton Cole missed a potential winning 35-footer at the buzzer.
“This is a story for Davidson College of a team who believed, who worked, who never relented as far back as last May when we began this journey,” McKillop said. “We came back in the second half and played with great resolve, with great patience and the steadiness we’ve had all year long.”
Davidson also had the balance that led it to the Southern Conference’s best record. Brooks and J.P. Kuhlman scored 19 points apiece, Jake Cohen scored 18 and Nik Cochran added 17. Five Wildcats had six or more rebounds, led by Chris Czerapowicz’s nine. Mann finished with 10 points.
Cohen and Kuhlman joined Brooks on the all-tournament team.
“They played with a kind of intensity that was unmatched,” Cohen said, referring to Western Carolina. “You saw the amount of back-and-forth that happened. Western (Carolina) didn’t back down, they kept coming after us. It seemed like we couldn’t pull away. They hit a big shot whenever they needed it.”
It was Davidson’s 11th Southern Conference title, and the sixth under McKillop.
Davidson’s last trip to the NCAA Tournament was its magical run in 2008, when Stephen Curry (now an NBA starter) led the underdog Wildcats to the regional final.
The Wildcats finished a season-opening, eight-game homestand with a 4-4 record, after losing 7-6 to Presbyterian College on March 4.
Davidson squandered a one-run lead in the top of the ninth when Presbyterian’s Gabe Grammer hit a two-run double with two outs, then took the mound for the save in the bottom half of the inning.
The lead changed five times during the game, including once each in the last three innings.
Drew Gadaire leads Davidson with a .346 batting average, and six of his nine hits have been for extra bases. James Cerbie is hitting .313 with six RBIs, and Andrew Barna is batting .310 with team-highs in RBIs (nine) and steals (five).
Starting pitchers Brian Russell (2.76 earned run average), Ryan Overcash (3.26) and Danny Mooney (3.38) each have one victory.
Davidson women’s basketball
Samford eliminated Davidson with a 62-51 victory in the semifinals of the Southern Conference tournament March 4 at Asheville’s U.S. Cellular Center.
Davidson (22-9) will represent the SoCon with a bid into the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT), which will be determined Monday, March 12, after the NCAA Tournament selections. It will be the Wildcats second-ever postseason bid, after the 2006-07 team earned a spot in the WNIT.
Laura Murray led Davidson with 18 points, and Sophia Aleksandravicius added 13 points and nine rebounds. Davidson is one victory from tying the school record for wins in a season, set by the 2006-07 squad.