Wildcats hold off Elon to head back to NCAAs
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP)—No one can question Davidson’s dominance in the Southern Conference. Now, the Wildcats hope to make their mark on a much bigger stage.
Stephen Curry scored 23 points to lead No. 23 Davidson back into the NCAA tournament with its third straight league crown, and fourth since 2002, with a 65-49 victory over Elon on Monday night.
The win completed a perfect run through the conference. Curry doesn’t see why the success can’t continue at the NCAA tournament.
“We’ve got all the necessary ingredients,” he said. “We’ve got playmakers. We’ve got senior leadership and we’ve got great defense. Hopefully, we can keep this run going.”
Curry and the Wildcats (26-6) have kept it going this far.
“This is the greatest feeling ever,” said Curry, who won his second straight tournament MVP award. “This is a very special team that I’m a part of.”
Besides extending the country’s longest winning streak to 22 games, Davidson continued its SoCon dominance. It has won 36 straight against league opponents, including all 23 games this season.
Curry has been a large reason why.
The Southern Conference player of the year hit three of his team’s first four baskets. The stylish sophomore’s 3-pointer early in second period gave Davidson a 39-26 lead, then he followed with two foul shots.
Elon (14-19) saw its surprising run to the title game end. The seventh-seeded Phoenix put together a three-game tournament surge, knocking off league heavyweights Chattanooga and College of Charleston to try for their first NCAA bid.
T.J. Douglas led the Phoenix with 18 points, all on 3-pointers.
And Elon gave its fans a thrill, cutting a 15-point lead to 51-46 on Douglas’ fifth long-range basket with 4:22 left.
“It gave us some hope there at the end,” Douglas said. “But it leaves a bad taste in your mouth when you come so far and come up short.”
This time, it was Curry’s teammates who regained control. Boris Meno and Andrew Lovedale had inside baskets and Bryant Barr stroked a 3-pointer from the right side to push Davidson’s edge to 58-46 with 2:21 to go.
Davidson’s fans chanted “Let’s go dancing!” as time ran down.
Curry, the son of former NBA standout Dell Curry, has been at the forefront of Davidson’s best stretch since the late 1960s. That’s when Lefty Driesell first made his coaching mark with four NCAA tournament appearances between 1966 and 1970.
This latest title gives Wildcats coach Bob McKillop his fifth NCAA trip since 1998.
But while Driesell’s Wildcats had a 5-5 mark in NCAA play—they twice advanced to the East Finals—McKillop’s team hasn’t yet scratched NCAA success, losing its four first-round games.
A year ago, Davidson was a 14th seed and dropped an 82-70 decision to Maryland.
The Wildcats, thanks to their win streak and first ranking since Lefty’s days, figure to get a better draw when the brackets come out Sunday.
“I clearly believe we’ve demonstrated a lot in terms of seeding,” McKillop said. “We went 20-0 in conference play. No one did that. The NCAA committee said it’s who you play, where you play and how you play. Not that you win, but how you play. We did a pretty good job of proving that.”
Three of Davidson’s losses came against top 10 clubs in North Carolina, Duke and UCLA.
Davidson didn’t come out like the powerful club that swept to the finals off a pair of 30-point wins as Elon took away much of its versatility.
While Curry’s sure stroke led the way, point guard Jason Richards was just as dazzling driving to the basket for easy layups. If those shots missed, sure-handed inside men Thomas Sander and Meno were there for easy stickbacks.
Curry did his usual thing, collecting 12 first-half points. However, Elon’s physical defense kept the rest of the Wildcats off-balance.
Davidson managed only four points the final five minutes to lead 30-22 at the break. That’s far from the double-digit margins the Wildcats enjoyed their first two tournament games.
In the end, Elon didn’t have enough to stop Davidson’s season of Southern Conference perfection.