Will Wade’s Chattanooga Mocs entered Thursday night’s matchup at Davidson on a 10-game win streak, with forward Z Mason (18.4 ppg, 9.5 rpg) leading the way for a team with four double-digit scorers and nine players averaging at least 11.5 minutes per game. It’s been quite the start for the first-year head coach, who’s still working to install the style of play he wants his Chattanooga program to be known for.
Chattanooga wasn’t expected to be a contender in the Southern Conference right away but there they were, walking into Belk Arena with an unblemished league mark with a chance to make a statement against the program that has set the standard in the SoCon for much of the Bob McKillop era.
Unfortunately for the Mocs, it would be Davidson that made the statement.
De’Mon Brooks got the job done on both ends of the floor, scoring 27 points and grabbing 12 rebounds while also being the primary defender assigned to Mason in the Wildcats’ 94-51 victory. Mason accounted for just seven points on 2-for-9 shooting, and as a team the Mocs were limited to 32.7% shooting from the field and failed to make any of their 13 three-point attempts.
Add in Davidson’s shooting nearly 60% from the field with four players scoring in double figures (Jordan Barham scored 16 off the bench), and the end result was the Wildcats using their best showing of the season to move into a tie for first place in the loss column (Chattanooga’s 8-1, Davidson’s 7-1).
“Without doubt, our best performance of the year,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. “Our consistency, from opening tap to the end of the game, both offensively and defensively, were very evident. It’s very gratifying to have this kind of success tonight.”
The Wildcats got off to a slow start in non-conference play, with a knee injury that sidelined Brooks for six games doing Davidson no favors. But after closing non-conference play on a five-game losing streak, Davidson’s won seven of its first eight games in SoCon play. And with four players scoring in double figures the Wildcats have the look of a team that has solidified its rotation after losing three starters from last season’s NCAA tournament team.
Davidson’s win over Chattanooga is big for another reason: due to imbalanced scheduling Thursday’s meeting was the lone regular season contest between the two teams, meaning that the outcome could impact seeding in the conference tournament. However with that event being more than a month away, it’s more important for Davidson that they’re executing well on both ends of the floor.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.