NEW YORK — More than any other Davidson player, he will determine how far the Wildcats go come March. That's because his performance is more important to Davidson's success than anyone else's. His overall play and scoring contributions are critical to the team's won-loss record.
By the way, I'm not talking about Stephen Curry.
6'8" forward Andrew Lovedale is certainly not the best player on the Davidson roster—only a fool would suggest anyone but Curry is worthy of that title—but much like LeBron's teammates are vital to the Cavaliers' playoff chances, so too is Curry's supporting cast.
The reason is because you simply know what you are going to get from Curry. He leads the country in scoring, averaging over 31 a game. He always comes up big when the spotlight is shining the brightest, putting on a show in last year's Tournament, and scoring 44 points in two of the three games Davidson has played against major-conference schools so far this season.
But last night at Madison Square Garden against West Virginia in the Jimmy V Basketball Classic, Curry had an off-game. He shot 9/27 from the field, including 4/16 from deep. While he still managed a game-high 27 points, a main reason the Wildcats held on for a 68-65 victory was Lovedale's play. The forward scored 15 points while grabbing five rebounds and blocking three shots.
Extra attention was given to Curry all night, forcing the star to dish to open teammates, especially in the first half. Lovedale was often that guy, and he didn't disappoint, playing 38 minutes and hitting six of 12 from the field, which included an assortment of jumpers and lay-ins.
It often does seem like Curry really can do it all himself, even on his best nights he's only scoring 60% of his team's points. (Wow, that feels weird to write: he's only scoring 60% of his team's points.) But while Curry is one of the best players in the country, the contributions of the other Wildcats are ultimately going to decide the team's fate.
A lot of that responsibility falls on the shoulders of Lovedale, a senior from Nigeria.
"I have not played the game for long, so every year I’ve been here I’ve been trying to get better," Lovedale told me after last night's win. "I've done a lot of hard working. I have great teammates. I have learned a lot but I still have a long way to go.”
Lovedale's numbers highlight how his responsibility has increased over his career. He saw little action as a freshman, but played 18 minutes per game as a sophomore, averaging nearly five points and six rebounds. Last year was Lovedale's breakout season, as he cracked the starting line-up in early January and started 25 of Davidson's final 26 games. The Wildcats were 24-1 in those games.
When it mattered most, during Davidson's magical NCAA Tournament run, Lovedale increased his season scoring and rebounding numbers, scoring in double digits in three of the four games and helping the 'Cats come within one basket of the Final Four.
The big man has already shown improvement this season, averaging a double-double so far. His 14 ppg are crucial to taking some of the offensive burden off Curry. Look at Saturday's five-point win against NC State. Curry dropped a career high 44, but without Lovedale's 12, Davidson might not have pulled out the victory. Lovedale was the only other Wildcat in double figures.
Lovedale is not just a factor offensively, but on the defensive end as well. He's Davidson's tallest starter, so the task often falls on him to guard the opposing center and clean up on the boards.
Last night, Lovedale's rebounding wasn't up to par.
"We have to rebound the ball better," Lovedale said. "They were really tough inside, but we have to do a better job. That is one thing that will come—we’ll get better and that’s why we play games like this.”
Coach Bob McKillop praised the senior's performance, despite West Virginia's 58-32 rebounding advantage.
"Lovedale was tremendous tonight," he said. "[Some of our guys] aren't used to being on this stage and being key players. They’re used to being [role] players and they’ve got to be key players if we want to be good.”
On most nights, a team needs at least three guys in double figures to get a win. With a special player like Curry, though, sometimes just two is enough. How often Lovedale can be that other guy will go a long way in determining Davidson's fate.