Davidson basketball coach Bob McKillop was the picture of buttoned-up cool for most of the Wildcats' 77-66 win over The Citadel on Thursday night, keeping his suit coat on and tie knotted perfectly.
And why not?
His Wildcats, alone atop the Southern Conference, built a 22-point lead in the first half and led comfortably by 18 with just seven minutes left in the game.
But with about four minutes to go, McKillop suddenly whipped off his jacket. The Bulldogs had sliced 14 points off that 22-point lead, and Davidson would have to work to get out of McAlister Field House with a victory.
The Wildcats did just that, using a clutch 3-pointer from Chris Czerapowicz and a career-high 26 points from De'Mon Brooks to send the Bulldogs to their ninth straight loss.
"Give The Citadel credit," said McKillop, whose team is 19-5 overall and 13-1 in the SoCon, three games ahead of Georgia Southern in the South Division. "They were aggressive the entire game. For a team with their record to fight as hard as they did, that's a credit to them."
The Bulldogs dropped to 4-20 and 1-12, but had only to reflect on their 80-51 loss at Davidson on Jan. 21 to see improvement. The Citadel fell behind 30-2 at the start of that game.
"We have a lot of respect for Davidson, and they've earned it," Citadel coach Chuck Driesell said. "We were right there, and if a couple of things go right for us and we shoot the ball better, that's a winnable game for us. We'll use that as something to build on."
Despite the rapt attention of Davidson's big men, Citadel center Mike Groselle racked up his 12th double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Bo Holston added 13 points as the Bulldogs outscored Davidson, 40-24, in the paint.
But against the Wildcats' length on the perimeter, The Citadel hit just 3 of 18 from 3-point range. Making 13 of 21 from the foul line didn't help, either.
Aided by a 2-3 zone, the Bulldogs pulled within 67-57 with 3:43 left. But Groselle missed three straight free throws that could have cut the margin to seven. The Bulldogs did get to within eight on Lawrence Miller's drive with 2:01 left. Czerapowicz answered with his trey from the right corner for 70-59 at 1:43, and The Citadel got no closer than nine after that.
"You could see Davidson getting a little nervous," said Groselle, who had six of the Bulldogs' 11 steals, their most against a Division I team this season. "Our defense was excellent, and we played hard and played with them the whole game. If we hit our free throws -- and I missed five -- and turn the ball over less, we're right there."
Brooks, a 6-7 sophomore, made eight of nine shots and added nine rebounds to his 26 points. He said the Wildcats can expect to get the best shot of opponents down the stretch, including Saturday's game at College of Charleston.
"Coach told us we're going to have a target on our back because of the way we've been playing lately," Brooks said. "We knew this would be a tough one. They played the best they could and gave us a great shot."
JP Kuhlman scored 16 points and Czerapowicz added 14 for Davidson, which jumped out to a 30-8 lead.
"We had moments where we were very sharp," said McKillop, whose team had 17 turnovers, two off its season high. "But then we had moments when we were hesitant. I would credit The Citadel with making us hesitant."