Davidson succeeding with selfless team play

The Wildcats have won 14 straight and are off to their best start in more than a half-century

Davidson forward Luka Brajkovic is one of four players averaging double-digit scoring for the Wildcats this season. (Vasha Hunt / AP Photo)

The longest current winning streak in college basketball doesn’t belong to defending national champion Baylor, which has been ranked No. 1 for much of this season.

It didn’t belong to Duke, Kentucky or any of the other brand names that dominate the headlines as well as the hardwood.

Rather, it was Davidson, which broke a tie with Auburn by notching its 14th straight win by beating VCU on Tuesday.

Unlike the Tigers of the SEC, who are ranked No. 2 in the latest polls, coach Bob McKillop’s Wildcats still find themselves flying below the radar nationally while buried among the “others receiving votes.”

Being overlooked is a position they should be used to by now considering they were picked to finish sixth in their conference before the season began.

At 15-2 with an upset of then-No. 10 Alabama to its credit and 5-0 in the Atlantic 10 after beating VCU 63-61 to follow up Friday’s buzzer-beating 87-84 victory at Richmond, Davidson is off to its best start since the 1969-70 season.

But as junior point guard Foster Loyer was quick to point out after a recent win against Rhode Island, it’s still only a start.

“We’re not content where we’re at,” Loyer said. “There’s still so much of the season left that a loss here, a loss there and we’re right back where people wanted to project us. We don’t focus on the outside world, we focus on ourselves, our teammates within that locker room.”

Davidson has a rich basketball history that includes 14 NCAA Tournament appearances, two of which have come since it entered the A10 in 2014. It has produced one of the winningest coaches in history in McKillop, as well as one of the best players in college and NBA ever in Steph Curry.

But this year’s team didn’t figure to be up to the Wildcats’ usually high standards.

Not after losing 2,000 career point scorer Kellan Grady to Kentucky, as well as two other key players — Bates Jones to Duke and Carter Collins to Murray State — to the NCAA’s new relaxed transfer rules.

McKillop was able to offset those losses with a valuable portal pickup of his own, Michigan State transfer Loyer, and a returning core of players that have bought into a selfless team concept.

The Wildcats have had a different player lead the team in scoring in each of their three previous games prior to Tuesday.

Loyer finished with 19 against Rhode Island on Jan. 8. Luka Brajkovic, a 6-foot-10 senior from Austria, hit for 25 against UMass three days later, while redshirt junior guard Michael Jones put up 29 in the win at Richmond — including the decisive 3-pointer from 27 feet out with just three seconds remaining.

It was Jones’ eighth trey of the game on nine attempts.

A fourth player, South Korean-born forward Hyunjung Lee, currently ranks third in the A10 at 16.8 points per game. Sam Mennenga, a 6-foot-9 Australian and the team’s fifth starter, is the team’s best defender.

“This is a special team we’ve got here,” Jones, who has increased his scoring average from just over five per game last season to 13.3, said in a postgame interview following the Richmond win. “It’s something I’ve never felt before while playing on a team like this, and it all comes back really and truly to the brotherhood we have in this locker room.”

It’s a togetherness that has impressed even McKillop, who has seen just about everything there is to see during his 33 seasons and 621 wins as Davidson’s coach.

“I think a lot of coaches are wrestling with the culture of today where players want to play their game instead of playing our game,” McKillop said. “I watch our guys work and it’s extraordinary how we do drill after drill, repetition after repetition. And our guys do that every day. It’s pretty impressive.”

Equally impressive has been the Wildcats’ ability to shoot from the perimeter.

Led by Loyer, who ranks among the top 10 nationally in 3-point accuracy, Davidson is shooting 42.3% as a team from beyond the arc. Only South Dakota State at 44.5% has a better percentage nationally.

But the Wildcats aren’t solely dependent on their perimeter offense.

They’re also the best overall shooting team in the A10 at 50.1%, rank second in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.67 and are among the top five in both rebounding margin and scoring defense.

Those numbers, if they continue, are bound to start catching people’s attention. If not nationally, then certainly among their future conference opponents.

“People are coming at us now,” Mennenga said. “We’ve got a target on our back. We’ve won however many straight.

“It’s a journey. We’re kind of in the middle of the season. Now we’re in conference play and we’re doing things together. We just have to stay together, fight together and win together.”