New York Colleges: Davidson Wildcats

Rapid Reaction: Davidson 76, St. Francis (NY) 69

December, 21, 2010
NEW YORK -- A quick take on Davidson's 76-69 win over St. Francis (NY) in the consolation game of the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden.

WHAT IT MEANS: St. Francis goes a disappointing 0-2 in the hometown Holiday Festival, after getting pounded by Northwestern Monday night, and falls to 6-5 on the season. Davidson rebounds from a tough loss to St. John's Monday night, and ups its record to 6-5 on the season.

PERSONNEL CHANGE: St. Francis played without leading scorer and rebounder Akeem Bennett on Tuesday night -- Bennett committed a flagrant foul late in Monday's loss to Northwestern, and was ejected. Bennett, who is averaging 15.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, surely would have helped in this game.

FIRST HALF: Davidson led 33-28 at halftime, after shooting 12-for-23 (52.2 percent) from the field. St. Francis shot just 10-for-35 (28.6 percent) in the first half -- what kept the margin was so close was the Terriers' 11 offensive rebounds in the first 20 minutes, which led to 10 second-chance points.

MORE OF THE SAME: The game remained pretty tight in the second half. St. Francis actually took the lead briefly, 47-46, about midway through -- but that lead was erased on the very next possession by a Brendan McKillop trey. Davidson went on an 11-0 run, including that McKillop 3-ball, and never trailed again.

WHAT'S NEXT: St. Francis takes an eight-day Christmas break, before resuming play at home versus New Jersey Institute of Technology on Dec. 30. Davidson takes the same length of time off, before hosting St. Joseph's College of Maine.

Rapid Reaction: St. John's 62, Davidson 57

December, 20, 2010
NEW YORK -- A quick take on St. John's 62-57 win over Davidson on Monday night at Madison Square Garden:

WHAT IT MEANS: St. John's snaps its two-game losing streak, and improves to 6-3 on the season. Also, Steve Lavin wins his first game at the Garden as the St. John's head coach.

This is a quality win for St. John's. Yes, a Big East team should beat a Southern Conference team at home --but Davidson has talent, even without Stephen Curry, and is very well-coached.

Davidson drops to 5-5 on the season.

"Over the course of a season, there's gonna be nights where you play a game that isn't a thing of beauty for the spectators, but you've gotta find a way to grind out or manufacture a win," Lavin said. "And I thought tonight was an example of a group of kids who really had the stick-to-it-iveness and resolve to find a way to get a victory, and that's what impressed me most."

A DIFFERENT WORLD: In St. John's last two games, losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham, the Red Storm blew big second-half leads. This time around, they trailed by three at the half and came from behind. St. John's fought back and led by five, 51-46, with 8:18 remaining in the second half. Then Davidson clawed back to tie it up, 55 all.

The winning points actually came on two made free throws by Justin Burrell (a 35 percent free throw shooter coming into the game) with 5:04 left. Both teams went into a major drought after that. Davidson had two pretty good looks from behind the 3-point line with under a minute left -- one when the Wildcats were down by two, and one when they were down by three -- but both missed.

"I think in the first half we may have been trying too hard, but it was coming from a good place. I thought we were a little uptight, we rushed," Lavin said. "The second half it wasn't as though there was great offensive rhythm, but our kids played a little more aggressively and they didn't seem quite as inhibited."

MUST CAPITALIZE: St. John's forced 14 Davidson turnovers in the first half, yet only scored six points off those 14 giveaways. The Red Storm have to take better advantage of those opportunities -- especially when they're struggling to get good looks in their half-court offense, as they did for much of the game Monday night, particularly in the first half.

That said, St. John's played a very strong defensive game overall, limiting Davidson to 34 percent shooting from the field (16-for-47) and forcing 21 total turnovers.

"We thought we had to really crawl in defensively in terms of our ball pressure, and I think that was ultimately the difference in the game," Lavin said.

"I think they do a masterful job of mixing up their defenses," said Davidson coach Bob McKillop. "Steve has them playing pressure -- three different kinds of pressure -- and he has them playing two different kinds of half-court [defense]. He's got players that are seniors that have instinctive eyes, who really have a great break on the ball. They play the passing lanes very well. They're long. So I think they're very good."

BIG IMPROVEMENT: D.J. Kennedy was more aggressive than he has been in most games this season -- Kennedy led the Red Storm with 17 points and nine rebounds. But he could still look for his shot more -- he only took nine, making seven.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself, and my teammates expect a lot from me," Kennedy said. "I just wanted to come out here and respond today, and get that W."

Also, freshman Dwayne Polee -- who's coming off the bench now -- made a nice contribution. Polee, who was scoreless in the team's previous two games, had six points, three rebounds and a steal. And Burrell had five points and seven rebounds off the bench, plus those crucial free throws.

BOUNCING BACK: The importance of this win, after back-to-back heartbreakers against St. Bonaventure and Fordham followed by eight days off, cannot be underestimated. Lavin said he had to take a step back and look at the big picture after the Fordham loss.

"After the Fordham game, I talked to our staff -- we have to remind ourselves, 'cause I even forget, that we've been with this group, in terms of the entire team and our entire staff, for nine weeks," Lavin said. "And I told the kids, really, relatively speaking, [this is] an infancy. And naturally the Big East is coming up so there's that sense of urgency -- we want to continue to improve. But it's an 180-degree different system and style of play from what this group [is used to] -- defensively it is.

"The full court pressure, the run and jumps, the traps, the multiple defenses that we've implemented is dramatically different. And they've been receptive as learners and really adapted well when you consider how short a period of time it is we've been together."

"I feel like we've got a long way to go," Kennedy said. "We just show flashes … it’s still early, and we know the potential we can reach."

WHAT'S NEXT: St. John's will play Northwestern in the Holiday Festival championship game, Tuesday night at 9:30 p.m. Davidson will play St. Francis of Brooklyn in the consolation game, Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

St. John's vs. Davidson -- a preview

December, 20, 2010
After eight days off, St. John's will try to snap its two-game losing streak on Monday night at Madison Square Garden, when it takes on Davidson.

The game is part of the annual Holiday Festival at the Garden -- it will be preceded by St. Francis (NY) taking on Northwestern at 7 p.m. The St. John's game should tip off at about 9:30. Both games will air locally on MSG.

The two winners will play in Tuesday night's championship game, while the two losers will play first in the consolation game.

St. John's (5-3) is coming off back-to-back heartbreaking losses -- 67-66 to St. Bonaventure at Carnesecca Arena, and 84-81 at Fordham. The Red Storm blew a 10-point second-half lead against the Bonnies, and a 21-point second-half lead against the Rams.

These two games at the Garden this week are critical for St. John's -- they are the Red Storm's final two before beginning Big East play at West Virginia on Dec. 29. St. John's desperately needs to build up a little momentum, and a couple wins could also loom large if the Red Storm end up on the bubble come NCAA Tournament time.

"I spoke to the kids about the season being a marathon," St. John's coach Steve Lavin said after the loss to Fordham. "And because of our last two losses, we now have to get two wins that maybe when you look at that schedule before the season starts, you didn't think you'd get."

Shooting guard Dwight Hardy is coming off two outstanding personal performances -- Hardy had 24 points against St. Bonaventure, and 30 points against Fordham. Lavin would like to see more of that -- and more in general from senior swingman D.J. Kennedy, St. John's leading scorer last season, who is off to a sluggish start this year.

Davidson -- coached by New York City native Bob McKillop -- is 5-4 on the season, and 1-1 so far in the Southern Conference. The Wildcats also are coming off eight days off -- in their last game, they defeated Charlotte at home 82-68. (In Charlotte's last game, it defeated No. 7 Tennessee.)

Jake Cohen -- a 6-foot-10 sophomore forward -- leads Davidson in scoring (14.7 ppg) and rebounding (6.7 rpg). Cohen is shooting 52.9 percent from the field, and 82.9 percent from the foul line.

Lavin will likely give more minutes to 6-foot-10 Dele Coker, 6-foot-8 Justin Burrell and 6-foot-8 Sean Evans, in an attempt to counteract Cohen's size.

Fellow sophomore J.P. Kuhlman -- a 6-foot-4 guard -- averages 13.6 points per game, and a team-high 3.3 assists per contest.

In the first game of the doubleheader, St. Francis faces a tall task -- Northwestern (7-0) is one of nine remaining undefeated teams in Division I. John Shurna -- a 6-foot-8 junior forward -- is having a fantastic year so far for Northwestern, averaging 23.7 points per game, and shooting 64.3 percent from the field. Shurna also has made 23 of his 37 3-point attempts (62.2 percent).

St. Francis is 6-3, and 2-0 in Northeast Conference play under first-year head coach Glenn Braica -- a former St. John's assistant. Akeem Bennett -- a 6-foot-3 senior -- averages 16.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game for the Terriers, while fellow senior Ricky Cadell (a 6-foot-2 guard) averages 16.2 points per contest.