Team Profile: 2008 BracketBuster Recap: Davidson 60, Winthrop 47

by Rick Dimon | February 23rd, 2008

Winthrop was 56-2 in its last 58 home games heading into Friday night. Davidson brought a 16-game winning streak into Rock Hill, South Carolina. Something had to give when the Eagles and Wildcats squared off inside Winthrop Arena in an opening-night BracketBruster showdown on ESPN2.

Although Davidson star sophomore Stephen Curry endured one of the worst games of his career, it is Winthrop’s stellar home record that has another tally in the loss column, while the Wildcats head back to the friendly confines of Belk Arena on a 17-game surge. Point guard Jason Richards scored 21 points to lead Davidson to a 60-47 victory in a game that was never close.

The Wildcats jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead on three-pointers by Curry and Richards. While Winthrop briefly leveled the score at 8-8 four minutes into the game, Davidson went on a 12-0 run over the next 5:54 to grab a 20-8 advantage. The Eagles tried furiously to get back in the game before halftime with dogged defense—especially on Curry—but it just did not materialize for them on the other end of the floor. Winthrop shot just 28 percent (6-for-22) from the field in the first half and went into the locker room with only 21 points on the scoreboard, staring a 10-point deficit in the face.

It didn’t get much better in the second half for the home team. Winthrop connected on just 32 percent of its shots over the final 20 minutes of play. The Eagles, however, kept things interesting with their ever-solid defense.

Davidson had to contend with a kind of defensive intensity that it had not seen at any point in its current 18-game surge through the Southern Conference. Winthrop played incredibly physical down low—too physical at one point when Antwon Harris was called for an intentional foul with an elbow to Boris Meno—and allowed nothing easy for forwards Thomas Sander and Andrew Lovedale in the paint.

But it was Curry who especially felt the wrath of the ball-hawking Eagles ‘D.’ A swarming trap defense often forced the ball out of the sharpshooter’s hands, and when Curry was able to get shots off himself, he consistently looked off-balance. Whether he actually did not have time to get his feet set or simply thought he did not have time to get set, Winthrop’s tenacity was in his head all night long. It did not help that two first-half fouls prevented Curry from getting into any kind of early rhythm, as he played just nine minutes prior to the intermission. He finished with a season-low 12 points on just 4-of-14 shooting, including 2-for-9 from three-point range.

Richards, however, was more than up to the challenge of assuming a bigger scoring role. The nation’s assist leader at 8.1 per game drained five three-pointers and his 21 points were tied for the second-most he has scored all season (23 at Western Michigan). Richards also dished out five assists and committed just two turnovers despite playing all but two minutes of the game.

Like Curry, Winthrop’s leading scored for the season also endured a brutal time of it on Friday night. Michael Jenkins scored 10 points, but had to take 17 shots to just barely reach double-figures. He finished 4-of-17 from the field and 2-of-10 from long range. While Jenkins got help in the form of 16 points from Chris Gaynor, he needed a lot more help if the Eagles were entertaining thoughts of pulling off a minor upset on national television. Instead, only four Eagles scored points—Jenkins (10), Gaynor (16), Taj McCullough (15), and Charles Corbin (6). Despite his 15 points, however, the 6-7, 222-pound McCullough converted just four of his 13 field-goal attempts.

Ultimately that lack of depth prevented Winthrop from ever getting back in the game. The Eagles managed to make a nice run late in the game to cut the deficit from 51-33 with 7:13 left to 51-42 with 3:08 remaining, but it never got any closer. With a thin rotation of players, all of whom had to expend too much energy on the defensive end of the floor (which they expended it admirably against Davidson’s arsenal of offensive weapons), Winthrop tired visibly down the stretch.

Defensive-stopper Max Paulhus Gosselin led the defensive effort that held Winthrop to a season-low 47 points. He had three steals and blanketed Jenkins incessantly. “He’s like a Spiderman,” said head coach Bob McKillop of Paulhus Gosselin. “He has a knack and passion to play defense. He sets the tone.”

The always-improving Lovedale chipped in nine points and 10 rebounds for Davidson. No Wildcat other than Lovedale, Richards, and Curry had more than six points in the defensive struggle.

Curry failed to astound on national attention in the way he normally does, but the NCAA committee had to like the fact that Davidson went into a hostile environment and won despite a sub-par effort from its best player. “Steph Curry is a legitimate All-American candidate, but if he doesn’t have an All-American game, we have the players to step up and take over,” added McKillop.

Davidson fans surely wish that Winthrop head coach Randy Peele had a seat on the Selection Committee. “This game had a feel like a second-round NCAA Tournament game,” Peele said. “Davidson is NCAA Tournament-worthy. It felt like the second round because we played them on one day’s prep. They have a very good basketball team.”

The Wildcats have two regular season games left against Appalachian State in Georgia Southern as they attempt to go undefeated in regular-season conference play for the second time in four years. Winthrop, not an at-large contender unlike past years, drops to 18-10 with the loss and must win the Big South Tournament in order to make the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive year.

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