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Denison goes toe to toe with Division I Davidson

Pat Keller (31) and Devon Pitts (23) get position for a rebound at Davidson.
Pat Keller (31) and Devon Pitts (23) get position for a rebound at Davidson.

Seven years ago, Davidson College was the nation's Cinderella Story.  Led by dead-eye shooter Stephen Curry, the Wildcats advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.  On Saturday, Denison was looking to write its own chapter in college basketball's ever-growing Cinderella novella.

Powered by 15 3-pointers, Denison kept the natives restless at the John M. Belk Arena.  A late charge by Davidson in the first half and a strong start to the second half helped the Wildcats outlast Denison, 83-70 in front of 3,629 in Davidson, N.C.

Bob Ghiloni's Big Red squad was anything but intimidated by their opponent. Denison jumped ahead of the host Wildcats on seven different occasions in the opening 20 minutes of play. Davidson held the largest lead of the first half when they took an eight-point advantage following a pair of Peyton Aldridge free throws with 11:13 on the clock.

Facing a 23-15 deficit, sophomore Andrew Castagnetti shrunk the margin with a triple off an assist from junior point guard David Meurer. Senior Darius White closed the gap to 23-21 with a three after taking the ball away from Davidson's Brian Sullivan. The Wildcats' Jack Gibbs made it a three-point game after splitting a pair at the line, but a White jumper made it a one-point contest with nine minutes to play.

Andrew McAuliffe answered the White bucket with one of his own, but, on DU's next possession, junior Jett Speelman buried a 3-pointer to tie the game at 26-26 with 8:19 left in the opening half. Sullivan broke the tie with a layup at the 7:27 mark. With just over seven minutes on the clock, Speelman connected from long range once again off a pass Meurer to give Denison a 29-28 lead. Speelman's second-consecutive 3-pointer capped off a 14-5 Big Red run that spanned 3:43.

After a Jake Belford free throw and an Aldridge layup put Davidson back in front by two, White knocked down his third trifecta of the half to make it a 32-31 game in favor of DU. The Wildcats regained a three-point advantage with a Sullivan layup and two free throws from Belford. On the ensuing Denison possession, Castagnetti tied the game for the sixth time in the period with a 3-pointer off a pass from Johnny Vernasco. Davidson closed out the first half on a 10-2 run over the final three minutes its eight-point lead with a 10-2 run over the final three minutes to take a 45-37 lead into the locker room.

In the second half, the Big Red pulled within six when Meurer opened the period with a layup, but that's as close as Denison got to writing their own Cinderella Story.  Davidson's lead grew as large 19 points but the Big Red never let it get out of hand.

Denison shot 41 percent (26-for-63) from the field, while Davidson connected on 44 percent from the floor (27-for-61). The Big Red connected on 15 3-pointers, two short of the school record, on a school-record 37 attempts which resulted in a 41 percent conversion rate. The Wildcats had a 16-point advantage at the foul line, making 19-of-27 attempts compared to DU's 3-for-6 showing. Davidson also outrebounded Denison, 43-34.

Speelman paced the DU offense with 20 points in 29 minutes after going 7-for-14 from the field and 4-for-9 from long range. Meurer also converted 50 percent (6-for-12) from the field en route to a 15-point effort. The junior guard also grabbed six boards and dished out five assists. White rounded out the list of double-digit scorers for the Big Red with 14 points following a 5-for-13 outing that included four 3-pointers.

Brian Sullivan, the younger brother of Denison assistant coach Chris Sullivan, led Davidson with a game-high 23 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists. Aldridge chipped in 19 points, while Belford finished with a double-double after scoring 14 points and grabbing 14 boards. Gibbs rounded out the top scorers with 10 points and six rebounds in 27 minutes.

Denison falls to 3-2 on the year, while the Wildcats improved to 4-0 this season, earning Davidson Head Coach Bob McKillop his 500th career victory.  Under McKillop, Davidson has participated in eight NCAA Tournaments.

The Big Red will open North Coast Athletic Conference play on Wednesday when they travel to Greencastle, Ind. to take on the DePauw Tigers. Tip-off is schedule for 8 p.m.

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