Curry kicks it up a notch for clutch delivery under MSG's bright lights
NEW YORK -- Davidson doesn't need Stephen Curry to build a lead.
But the Wildcats probably can't win a tight game against an NCAA tournament-caliber team without Curry to close the deal.
Curry ended a dry spell in the middle of Tuesday night's Jimmy V Classic game against West Virginia. The 6-foot-3 junior missed 12 of his first 13 3s but finished with a flurry by scoring 13 of the Wildcats' final 15 points -- including two crushing 3s in the final 90 seconds that left a packed Madison Square Garden screaming for an encore after his Broadway debut.
"Let's be honest," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said after Curry's 27 points on 27 shots led the Wildcats to the 68-65 victory. "If that kid doesn't hit two incredible shots, we win the game."
But he did. Just as he has done since he arrived on Davidson's charming Southern campus, Curry doesn't stay silent for long. Curry was the star of the 2008 NCAA tournament until Mario Chalmers hit the shot heard 'round the basketball nation to send the title game between Kansas and Memphis into overtime. KU later went on to a 75-68 championship win.
Had Curry, not then-senior guard Jason Richards, taken the last 3-pointer against Kansas in the Elite Eight (a 59-57 Jayhawks win), Super Mario might never have had the chance to secure his legendary status in Jayhawk Nation.
Just as Curry was during the run through Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin en route to the Kansas game in March, he was the star attraction here on basketball's biggest stage, even though the Wildcats played in the night's undercard game.
Curry, who has become one of the three most recognizable names in college basketball this season along with North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough and Oklahoma's Blake Griffin, was coming off a 44-point effort in a win over NC State at Charlotte Bobcats Arena on Saturday. He also scored 44 at Oklahoma in a near miss against the Sooners in Norman and contributed by being a decoy for two Loyola (Md.) defenders while being held scoreless as the 4-on-3 Wildcats won by 30.
The son of former NBA star Dell Curry (with the same smooth stroke) was averaging 31.3 points per game this season coming into Tuesday.
The faith they have in Stephen is that he's going to find a way, and the faith that Stephen has in Stephen is that it's going to click and it's going to happen. And then he waved that magic wand at the end.
--Davidson coach Bob McKillop
"Understand that Steph is a great player, and he carries the team on his back," Davidson senior forward Andrew Lovedale said. "We do what we can. We just try to ease the pressure on him and get him open when we can. He does a good job of looking out for his teammates. He's one of the most unselfish players I've ever met."
Curry, who attracted a bigger walk-up crowd than anyone involved in this event has ever seen, buried a 3-pointer after creating space by cutting back on his defender and taking a pass from Lovedale to cut West Virginia's lead to one at 62-61 with 1:09 left in the game.
On the next possession, after Lovedale blocked a Da'Sean Butler shot, Curry rebounded the ball, raced down the court, shook off John Flowers to create some space and hit the 3-pointer to give the Wildcats a 64-62 lead with 39 seconds left. Curry spun back, hit the press table and shook his head at the fans as if to let everyone know he was back on and the dagger had been delivered.
"The faith they have in Stephen is that he's going to find a way, and the faith that Stephen has in Stephen is that it's going to click and it's going to happen," Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. "And then he waved that magic wand at the end."
The video of Davidson's victory over West Virginia will be the perfect reminder for the Wildcats of their own identity for the rest of the season.
Curry's early shooting was off, as he went 1-for-9 on 3s in the first half for 10 points. He still had eight assists (but four turnovers) in the opening 20 minutes as the Wildcats held a seven-point lead.
Davidson was playing the Mountaineers without suspended starting guard Max Paulhus Gosselin because of a Southern Conference rule that prevents a player who is ejected for a flagrant foul from playing in the next game. West Virginia didn't have starting guard Alex Ruoff because of back spasms, and starting guard Joe Mazzulla played only six minutes because of a left shoulder contusion.
"We played without our two starting guards, so tell me, who's going to beat them without their two starting guards?" Huggins said.
But the Wildcats proved they're more than Curry in stretching a lead. Reserve forward Ben Allison scored 10 points in 20 minutes, Bryant Barr buried a pair of 3s and Lovedale scored 15 points in 38 minutes. The Mountaineers committed 17 turnovers and, despite crushing Davidson on the backboard (58-32), couldn't consistently convert second and third shots.
Allison may have been the biggest surprise, at one point going baseline for a thunderous dunk. That type of athletic move by a Wildcat big is a must if Davidson is to go on a similar run in March.
"Obviously Steph is an unbelievable shooter," Allison said. "But we need the other four guys to create movement for him to run off screens."
Curry questioned his own mechanics and judgment during a spell when he missed 10 straight shots. He said the length of the rotating West Virginia defenders bothered him, like 6-7 Butler, 6-9 Devin Ebanks, 6-7 John Flowers and 6-7 Cam Thoroughman. The Wildcats, notably Curry, also had a few too many possessions in which they didn't run their offense and shot without making a pass.
"We were taking shots we don't normally take," Curry said.
But the key 3-pointer to cut the Mountaineers' lead to one came after the Wildcats worked the ball around and Curry didn't have it the whole possession.
Curry was down on himself for poor decisions (he had eight turnovers along with his 10 assists) and still looks for the home run play too often. But it's hard to pick him apart after the way he closed out Tuesday night.
A Garden crowd that included some of the NBA's top names from the league office (VP Stu Jackson) and a number of teams (the Heat's Pat Riley, the Warriors' Chris Mullin and the Knicks' Donnie Walsh), was hanging on every Curry shot.
The cult following that Curry is cultivating is different from the one that followed Adam Morrison at Gonzaga. Morrison drew crowds, but there was a segment that loved to root against him. That doesn't seem to be the case with Curry. He seems to have everyone on his side, waiting to see him put on a show. Of course, fans are cheering for their team to win, but they appear to want to see Curry dazzle in the process.
As expected, Curry delivered when it mattered most, on one of the most magnificent stages.
And what Davidson has done so far this season in going 7-1 is prove that it hardly is a fluke or a one-year wonder. Defeats of NC State and West Virginia in consecutive games are the types of wins the Wildcats couldn't get during the regular season a year ago.
There is still more national spotlight to come: The Wildcats play Purdue on Dec. 20 in the Wooden Tradition event in Indianapolis. Then they have a monster showdown against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Jan. 7.
After that, the rest of the Southern Conference will be on tap for the Wildcats before March begs for Curry's next national tour.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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