It rained all day Wednesday throughout North Carolina. I have to admit, the only reason I ended up making the drive from Greensboro to Davidson, N.C. was because I had purchased my tickets ahead of time.
The dreary weather had provided resistance, but I decided to make the trip so as not to waste my hard-earned money that I had already sunk into tickets to hopefully watch Davidson pull the upset at home against Vanderbilt.
I luckily left my apartment early enough that the traffic slowed down by the torrential rain didn't make me late for the game. And as I was begging the sky to stop the downpour, it finally subsided on I-40 around Statesville, NC. I was soon left wishing the clouds would come back as my westward facing car had the full brunt of the lowering sun coming in through my windshield. The wet pavement on the road only served to amplify the already blinding light, leaving me nowhere to focus my eyes as I hoped my fellow motorists would not come to any sudden stops.
Heading south from Statesville on I-77 towards Charlotte created a different traffic nightmare. As I neared rush hour, the too-narrow interstate just north of the massive sprawl that is the Charlotte Metropolitan area starting filling up and slowing down. As far as I could tell there were no wrecks, just too many cars trying to go the same place at the same time.
I arrived on campus early enough to catch a bite to eat on Main Street, which forms one of the borders of Davidson's campus. The downtown reminds me of the small town I grew up in elsewhere in North Carolina. There are several restaurants lining the main drag and you can look out of the windows of any of these restaurants and see some of the buildings on Davidson's campus, including the large Presbyterian Church that faces the Quad.
I decided to eat at the appropriately quaint Soda Shop. The menu consisted of fairly typical lunch counter fare, with the addition of more "exotic" sandwiches and burgers that you wouldn't typically be able to find at a small-town diner. The walls were covered with evidence of Davidson's past glory, and the decorations and feel of the town clearly demonstrated the love the local residents feel for the College in their midst. There is community support here similar to other college towns like Chapel Hill. Of course one of the prominent displays was an article about Stephen "Flash" Curry.
Since the 2008 Elite 8 run, the major media has had plenty of time focus their attention on whatever mid-major team is "worthy" of their attention. Butler and VCU have captured the nation's attention in the past few years. Davidson was a story that everyone loved, even UNC Tar Heel fans were walking around wearing Davidson Wildcat shirts during and immediately after the run.
But professional basketball came calling and Curry (understandably) took the money. The recent NBA lockout brought Curry back to campus where he enrolled in classes again to fulfill the promise he made to his coach, Bob McKillop, and family that if he left school early to go to the NBA, he would finish his degree.
Without a superstar player to attach an easy narrative to, the TV cameras long ago stopped visiting Davidson on a regular basis. But the local community and students seem to still be offering their support for the program. This is the first real contender McKillop has had since Curry left, and the Wildcats came in to the Vanderbilt game with only one loss this season. That loss came at Duke; a team led (somewhat ironically) by Stephen's younger brother Seth.
As I made my way from the Soda Shop to Belk Arena for the game, the rain had picked up. As I made it to the entrance I noticed several shuttle buses dropping off people from local retirement communities. Inside the arena there seemed to be a large disparity in age. There were many students, and also large swaths of retirees. This interesting mix is caused by Davidson's dual status as a college town and a popular place for wealthy retirees to buy property on Lake Norman and enjoy the quiet small-town life.
The game atmosphere was impressive. The small Davidson student body, which is smaller than many high schools in the Charlotte area, was out in full force. The crowd was hungry for a win, and was very tuned in to the ebbs and flow of the game.
The crowd was rewarded for its passion early, as Davidson jumped out to a quick lead. Vanderbilt countered and tied it up, then chipped away at Davidson for the rest of the half to take the lead at the intermission. The second half saw Davidson go cold shooting, and Vanderbilt took advantage by building their lead up to 18. But late in the game, Davidson rallied and had and trailing 81-77 had a chance to go to the free-throw line to make it a two-point game. Clint Mann stepped to the line and missed both shots. After that, Davidson couldn't do any better than trade baskets, and Vanderbilt escaped with a win.
It isn't very often that a team like Davidson gets the opportunity to play a home game against an SEC opponent. The win will certainly look good for Vanderbilt once it comes time to decide at-large bids for the NCAA Tournament. As for Davidson, they will go back to the relative anonymity of Southern Conference play. With no Stephen Curry around games against Wofford and Samford will go untelevised.
Most people don't have time to learn about a team like Davidson. But this group will have a chance to prove themselves in March, and strike another blow for the little guys like they did in 2008. They can reclaim that moment that appeared lost when Jason Richard's desperation heave didn't sink Kansas.
VANDERBILT 87, at DAVIDSON 83 12/07/2011
VANDERBILT 6-3 (0-0) -- J. Taylor 12-17 3-3 30; J. Jenkins 7-14 6-7 22; B. Tinsley 3-9 1-2 8; R. Odom 2-5 0-0 4; L. Goulbourne 1-7 1-2 3; F. Ezeli 4-7 7-10 15; K. Johnson 1-2 2-2 5; S. Tchiengang 0-1 0-0 0; D. Parker 0-0 0-0 0; S. Moats 0-0 0-0 0; J. Henderson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-62 20-26 87. DAVIDSON 6-2 (2-0) -- J. Kuhlman 4-13 4-6 13; D. Brooks 9-12 5-5 24; J. Cohen 4-13 10-11 18; T. Droney 3-4 2-2 8; C. Czerapowicz 4-6 0-0 10; N. Cochran 2-8 2-2 7; C. Mann 1-3 1-4 3; T. Kalinoski 0-2 0-0 0; F. Ben-Eze 0-0 0-0 0; W. Reigel 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-61 24-30 83.
Three-point goals: VAND 7-15 (L. Goulbourne 0-1; B. Tinsley 1-2; J. Taylor 3-4; J. Jenkins 2-5; R. Odom 0-2; K. Johnson 1-1), DAV 5-22 (J. Kuhlman 1-7; N. Cochran 1-3; J. Cohen 0-5; D. Brooks 1-1; C. Czerapowicz 2-4; T. Droney 0-1; T. Kalinoski 0-1); Rebounds: VAND 31 (L. Goulbourne 7), DAV 30 (D. Brooks 9); Assists: VAND 8 (K. Johnson 3), DAV 15 (N. Cochran 5); Total Fouls -- VAND 27, DAV 22; Fouled Out: VAND-F. Ezeli; DAV-C. Mann.