NEW YORK (AP) — Tyler Kalinoski glanced at the clock and knew it was time to make something happen. Davidson only had a few seconds left to avoid being one-and-done in its first Atlantic 10 tournament and having a nervous wait until selection Sunday.
Kalinoski beat the clock with a driving, left-handed scoop to cap a crazy comeback and No. 24 Davidson slipped by La Salle 67-66 in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals on Friday.
The top-seeded Wildcats (24-6) trailed almost the entire game and were down nine after Jerrell Wright’s dunk for the Explorers with 4:45 left, but ninth-seeded La Salle (17-16) didn’t score another point.
Kalinoski started the rally with a 3 and then finished it by cutting through the Explorers and finding room to flip a shot high over the outstretched arms of the 6-foot-8 Wright.
“I don’t know if I was going for glass or not,” Kalinoski said. “One thing we do in practice a lot is coach always tells us to shoot it high, because if you shoot it high it gives it a better chance to go in the basket. And when I saw the shot-blocker coming over I definitely knew I had to get it as high as I could.”
“I knew it had a chance to go in.”
The ball bounced on the rim and through the net as the clock ran out. The Wildcats rushed the floor, their costumed mascot making a head-first slide onto the hardwood, and mobbed Kalinoski as the Explorers trudged off.
“I was surprised that shot went in,” La Salle coach John Giannini said. “I thought we had them out of rhythm a little bit. It looked like the ball was thrown towards the rim and not shot as well as they normally do. It just kind of took a couple of bounces and went in.”
Steve Zack dominated inside for La Salle with a career-high 24 points and 15 rebounds.
“I can’t even think about that right now,” said Zack, a senior. “My career’s over on a buzzer-beater.”
Wright had 19 points for La Salle.
Jack Gibbs led Davidson with 22 points and had a chance to tie with 1:19 left when he hit a 3 and was fouled, but missed the free throw.
Kalinoski finished with 18 points and helped the Wildcats avoid an uncomfortable few days until the NCAA field of 68 is set.
“The last game-winner I think I had was in middle school,” Kalinoski said.
The Wildcats were surprise winners of the A-10 in their first season in the conference after moving from the Southern Conference, where they made the NCAAs in five of the last nine seasons, most notably with Steph Curry.
The step up to the A-10 was supposed to lead to a step back this season. Instead, Davidson finished the regular season with nine straight wins and a regular-season title. The Wildcats’ resume lacks big nonconference victories, though, making them less than a lock for an at-large NCAA bid if they would have been upset at Barclays Center.
“I’ve been with this team six, seven months and after all we’ve been through I’m still shocked at the performance that we had, to come back like we did today,” said coach Bob McKillop, who is in his 26th season as coach of the Wildcats.
Now Davidson should be able to relax and play Saturday when it faces fifth-seeded VCU in the semifinals.
La Salle used its height advantage and some especially sharp outside shooting to build an 18-point first half lead. Zack, 6-foot-11, and Wright muscled through the Wildcats and combined for 14 for 16 shooting and 31 points in the first half. The Explorers were also 5 for 11 from 3-point range.
Davidson righted itself late and cut the lead to a more manageable nine with back-to-back 3s by Brian Sullivan to end the half.
The Wildcats cut the lead to four early in the second half on a 3 by Kalinoski that had McKillop pumping a clenched fist and imploring his team to step it up on the defensive end.
But they had a difficult time finding an answer for Zack on the defensive end. On one possession, the senior was able to post up the 6-4 Jordan Barham and easily turned and scored to make it 59-49 with about nine minutes left.
When Cleon Roberts dropped in a 3 for the Explorers with 6:30 left, La Salle’s lead was 64-54 and the large contingent of Davidson fans who made the trip from North Carolina were nervously quiet.
Davidson, the highest scoring and most-accurate shooting team in the conference, scored 13 points below its average and made only 39 percent of its shots — including the biggest shot of the day.
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