There’s a nightly cable news show called “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.”
Thursday night at the Nutter Center it was the last word with Jaylon Hall.
And the subject of the debate wasn’t politics, it was offense versus defense and, at times, it made for quite a show.
It pitted Detroit Mercy’s Antoine Davis, the No. 3 scorer in the nation and at 23.8 points per game the top offensive weapon in the Horizon League, against Hall, the 6-foot-5 Wright State guard, who is – according to Mike Davis, the Titans’ head coach and Antoine’s dad – “the best defensive player in our league.”
And in the second half both Hall and Antoine Davis had their say.
After a frustrating 0-for-8 start from the floor in the first half, Davis got on track in the second half. At the 15:00 mark, after driving past Hall for a quick-as-a-wink layup, he added a verbal exclamation point.
“He didn’t start talking to me ‘til then,” Hall said. “He said something like ‘I’m here…now!’”
Detroit still trailed by 19 points then – and though the Titans briefly cut the margin to three before another game-ending spurt by WSU – Hall said something that portended the outcome.
Davis tried another layup with 8:21 left and this time Hall blocked it. That led to a quick three-point shot by WSU’s Cole Gentry and then a charging foul on the frustrated Davis.
That’s when Hall spoke up to the Titans’ star:
“I said, ‘It’s over!””
And when WSU closed out the game scoring 12 straight points in just 65 seconds, it was all by over except for a last bucket and a free throw by the Titans.
The final was 98-86.
It was the Raiders 20th victory of the season. Going into this weekend, only 11 schools of the 353 playing NCAA Division I basketball had 20 victories this season and two are from here: WSU at 20-5 and the Dayton Flyers at 20-2.
Thursday night Davis finished with 28 points, but it took him 24 shots to do so and he went 4 for 14 from three-point range.
And as WSU coach Scott Nagy pointed out afterward, several of those points weren’t scored on Hall’s watch. While Hall played 30 minutes, Davis played all 40 and scored on four other Raiders.
Regardless, this was a far better showing than last season when Davis scored a career-high 48 points on WSU in Detroit. That wasn’t on Hall either. He missed all but one game last season after shoulder surgery.
This season, the 6-foot-1 Davis – who weighs just 157 pounds – has had several heavyweight games, including 35 against Southern Illinois Edwardsville (SIUE), 33 versus Ohio, 31 on then No 1 Gonzaga and 30 against Louisiana Lafayette. He scored 24 against the visiting Raiders Jan. 5.
“I’m from Houston and his dad coached at TSU (Texas Southern). so I know their family and have had a kind of a little history with him,” Hall said. “I know how he plays.
“So I took this game a little personal.”
‘You need the heart of a lion’
Mike Davis is best known as the head coach of Indiana and Alabama Birmingham. He took the Hoosiers to the national title game in 2002 and over 18 years he’s taken nine teams from three different schools to the NCAA Tournament.
Taking the Detroit Mercy job last season enabled him to coach his son, which he admitted, in a roller-coaster night like Thursday’s, is no easy task:
“You want to jump into him really hard, but you want to love him at the same time. I’m a nervous wreck. “
Antoine was the Horizon League Freshman of the Year last season and though he’s just 53 games into his college career, he’s scored 1,327 points against teams that have tried every defensive scheme in the book.
Sometimes, because he is so slight – “he’ll be better when he weighs 175 pounds,” his dad said – teams try to be especially physical with him. Often he becomes the focus of the opposing crowd.
That was the case Thursday night when the WSU students began chanting “Over-rated!” just six minutes into the game. Eventually the jibes became ‘0-for-8!,…0-for-8!’”
That didn’t curtail Davis, who isn’t shy about putting the ball up. Although he’s played one less game this season than Bill Wampler, WSU’s most prolific shooter, Davis has hoisted 212 more shots (483-271) than him.
That said, he also sets teammates up. Thursday night he had nine assists and his 108 for the season are almost three times as many as Wampler has.
All the stats, all the hype just made Hall — who made defense his calling card in order to secure a permanent spot in the Raiders starting lineup — relish his matchup with Davis all the more.
“When it comes to defense, I play with real big chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I take it real personal if somebody scores. I just take real pride in my defense. It’s an attitude you have to have.
You need the heart of a lion. That’s something my dad instilled in me when I was real young. You can’t have any fear out there. I even have it tatted on my chest: ‘Fear None.’
“If someone proves me different – then I tip my hat to him. When it’s happened, it’s humbled me and gotten me ready for the next me.”
Thursday night Hall was ready. He scored 15 points on 4 for 6 shooting from the floor (Wampler led the Raiders with 25 points) and he made Davis work for everything he got.
“And I know if I had guarded him all 40 minutes tonight” he added, “he would not have gotten as many points as he did.”
Although Hall said he got “a karate chop in the neck” from the Titans 268-pound Justin Miller during a scrum beneath the basket with just 40 seconds left — a move that got Miller hit with s technical foul — the post-game handshakes were especially warm when it came to the offensive and defensive stars.
Antoine Davis and Jaylon Hall gave each other a big hug.
“We have a lot of mutual respect,” Hall said. “He’s a really good player, especially being such a young age and doing what he’s doing. He’s really unpredictable. He can shoot from a long distance. can hit the pull-up jumper and get to the rim.
“He’s definitely the toughest guy I’ll face in the league.”
Antoine Davis was just as complimentary of Hall forward: “He did a wonderful job against us.”
Mike Davis was just as complimentary of the Raiders redshirt sophomore: “He’s long and he really works at it. He makes everything tough for you. I think he’s the best defensive player in the league.”
And afterward Hall envisioned more nights like this one for he and Davis:
“With all the hype around his offense and me being able to do what I do defensively, this is always going to be a good match-up between us.”
And that, more than anything else, is the last word on this debate of offense versus defense – Davis versus Hall.
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