Ask a Canadian hockey player after a great scoring performance how they did, 10 times out of 10 you’ll hear about their goalie playing well, and the breaks going their way.
You get the feeling in speaking with Davidson’s junior Jack Gibbs that you’re talking to a Canadian winger, even though Gibbs hails from Westerville, Ohio, and plies his trade on the hardwood. The 6-0, 195-pound Gibbs is evoking memories of former Wildcats star and current NBA MVP Stephen Curry, but you wouldn’t know it by asking him.
With Curry in the stands earlier on Dec. 1 against Charlotte, Gibbs knocked down 41 points, hitting his first 14 shots. He was 14-of-17 from the floor, and 6-of-7 from beyond the arc.
“It was the first time we really let go and had fun and I definitely benefited from that. We came out attacking in the first-half,” said Gibbs about the contest.
“We ran sets and Brian [Sullivan] hit six 3s as well. We’re definitely getting open shots and that’s through running our offense really well today. We had fun,” said Gibbs.
There’s a conspicuous absence of “I” in Gibbs’ commentary although he is garnering individual awards at a prolific rate, including twice earning ASN’s Player of the Week honors. In the A-10, he’s captured Player of the Week accolades four times, even though his Wildcats are just 4-4 in conference. Overall the Wildcats are 12-7, solid, but off the pace that captured the A-10 regular season championship last year, their first in the conference.
To date Gibbs has dropped in 459 points, pacing the conference as he’s averaged 25.5 points a game. Curry led the Southern Conference his junior year with a 28.6 average before departing for the NBA after the 2008-2009 campaign. Extrapolating those numbers into the arguably more competitive A-10, and the similarity to the 6’3” Curry draws more resolute.
Davidson’s head coach Bob McKillop fortunately is more willing to talk about his prolific scorer. In mid-January, Gibbs eclipsed the 1,000 point career mark with a flourish in a win over UMass. In that game, Gibbs scored a career best 43 points.
His performance was so outstanding that McKillop praised Gibbs’ rare mistakes: “I’ve never seen a guy make passes that are turnovers but somehow end up back in his hands and he scores a layup. It’s like the other team gets an assist to Jack Gibbs,” said McKillop. “He’s extraordinary in the way he has such quickness and recovery after making that kind of play.”
McKillop is no stranger to an accomplished night. In his 27th year at the helm of the Wildcats, he earned the Southern Conference’s Coach the Year award 10-times before Davidson aligned with the A-10. He’s also no stranger to big games. His 2008 squad — featuring Curry — fell two points short of upsetting eventual national champion Kansas before 57,563 fans at Detroit’s Ford Field.
The Wildcats’ final ten games of the season are conference matchups and they’ll need to win most, if not all of them, to make a sustained move against VCU (16-5, 8-0), who are currently undefeated in the A-10 and atop the league ranks.
The Rams recently beat Davidson in North Carolina, 79-69, to close out the month of January. Within the loss there were signs that the Wildcats were closing the gap on VCU. The Rams went up early in the game, 29-7, took a 10-point lead into intermission, and Davidson played them to a dead heat in the second half, with both teams scoring 41.
Then there was Gibbs, who scored 37 points against a defense that yields just 67 per game. Davidson allows 79.6 per contest, last among 14 teams in the A-10. The numbers tell the story of the head-to-head contest and the four-game spread between the two squads.
If the Wildcats are to push for the conference’s top spot, and an NCAA tourney bid, the thrust will likely come from Gibbs on the defensive side of the ball as well. The junior averages 1.6 steals per game, good for an eighth place tie among the lead leaders.
McKillop will also turn to his offensive leader in protecting the Wildcats’ basket, “I think the tone for our defense was set by Jack Gibbs,” said the head coach, on the night his junior leader poured in 43 on offense.