DAVIDSON – Davidson College’s basketball teams hope to make their swan song a memorable one.
The Wildcats men’s and women’s teams will play in their final Southern Conference tournaments this week in Asheville. Next season, Davidson will join the Atlantic 10 conference.
Davidson’s men have won the past two conference tournaments and are top-seeded heading into this year’s tournament. It begins March 7. The championship game is March 10. The Wildcats (19-11) earned a first-round bye and will play the Samford/Appalachian State winner at noon March 8 in the quarterfinals. The game will be available online at ESPN3.
Davidson hopes to defend its Southern Conference titles in the 9 p.m. title game March 10 at the U.S. Cellular Center, which will be televised on ESPN2.
The tournament winner earns an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Historically, Southern Conference teams that don’t win the conference tournament don’t earn an at-large bid into the NCAA’s event.
That means despite being top seed, Davidson has to win the Southern Conference tournament to extend its postseason. But the Wildcats are playing very well and will take a 12-game winning streak into the tournament.
Davidson opened the season with a rugged non-conference schedule and started 1-5. The Wildcats lost to five nationally ranked teams (Duke, Virginia, Wichita State, New Mexico and North Carolina), lost to Clemson and beat Georgia. That stretch of games helped prepare for the Southern Conference schedule. Davidson cruised to a 15-1 conference mark. Its lone loss was to Elon, which it avenged in an 86-69 romp March 1.
Davidson’s Brian Sullivan (26 points) and De’Mon Brooks (24 points) helped the Wildcats shoot 62 percent from the field and ruin Elon’s Senior Night.
Sullivan’s eight-of-14 shooting included five 3-pointers in the second half. Brooks, a Hopewell High alum, sank his first nine shots. He finished 10-of-12, including a pair of three-pointers, and grabbed eight rebounds. Davidson’s Chris Czerapowicz and Jordan Barham added 11 points each, and Czerapowicz had a team-high nine rebounds.
Depth and versatility are Davidson’s strengths. Brooks, a senior forward, leads the Wildcats in scoring (18.4 points) and rebounds (seven). He’s shooting 59 percent from the field. Sullivan averages 13.5 points.
Tyler Kalonoski has team-highs in assists (100) and steals (37), and averages 10.9 points. Tom Droney (10.6 points) and Czerapowicz (8.4) have been steady scorers all season.
The Wildcats earned a No. 3 seed in the Southern Conference women’s tournament. They’ll play sixth seed Samford in the quarterfinals at 6:45 p.m. March 8 at Asheville’s Kimmel Arena. The conference title game will be at 5 p.m. March 10 at U.S. Cellular Center, also in Asheville.
Sophomore Dakota Dukes registered her ninth double-double of the season with a career-high 31 points and 10 rebounds Davidson’s 83-67 victory at Wofford in the regular-season finale March 2.
Davidson is 14-15 overall and 11-7 in Southern Conference games. The Wildcats swept both regular-season games against Samford, its first-round opponent.
Dukes’ strong game against Wofford was enhanced by teammates Laura Murray, whose 19 points included 17 in the second half, and Hopewell High alum Hannah Early, who had 11 points, seven rebounds and a career-high three blocked shots.
Davidson has never won the Southern Conference tournament. Last year, it reached the finals, but lost. The Wildcats, however, did qualify for the Women’s National Invitational Tournament. Davidson won the first postseason game in the program's history (an 82-73 victory at Old Dominion) before being eliminated in the second round.
Murray, a senior guard, leads the Wildcats in scoring (18.9), assists (91) and steals (73). She's the second-leading scorer in Davidson history. Dukes averages 14.3 points and is shooting 50.2 percent from the field. Early has a 14.1 scoring average and leads the team in 3-pointers (60) and blocked shots (34).