CHARLOTTE — N.C. State basketball coach Sidney Lowe had a straightforward plan for defending Davidson All-American Stephen Curry Saturday afternoon.
Keep a fresh defender on him at all times, which meant rotating four different players throughout the game, in hopes of wearing down Curry, who entered the game as the nation’s leading scorer.
It didn’t work as Curry tied his career high with 44 points as the 22nd-ranked Wildcats muscled past the Wolfpack 72-67 in Time Warner Cable Arena.
“At one time he actually gave a signal like he was tired but he went on a played a few more minutes,” Lowe said.
“He’s not just a great shooter. He’s a basketball player.”
Curry was the difference in a game in which the Wolfpack (4-1) got a pair of powerful performances from Brandon Costner (18 points, 11 rebounds) and Ben McCauley (16 points, 10 rebounds).
With what had been a tight game throughout entering its final 90 seconds and Davidson clinging to a one-point lead, it was Curry who made the play that changed everything.
The moment came at the end of an exchange that began with Curry barking “Motion” to start the play, in which he drove left and pushed a quick pass to teammate Will Archambault in the left corner.
Archambault’s air-ball was rebounded by teammate Steve Rossiter who quickly hustled the ball back to Curry far beyond the top of the circle.
With the shot clock ticking off its final seconds, Curry heaved a rainbow that McKillop estimated at 37 feet. When it splashed through the basket with 1;21 remaining to give Davidson a 70-66 lead, the normally reserved Curry went downcourt in a semi-duck walk, pointing his fingers and casting a glance to his buddy, Lebron James, who was celebrating courtside.
“I just shot it before the clock ran out,” Curry said as if it were no big deal.
From there, the Wolfpack couldn’t recover. Execution problems bothered Lowe, who didn’t like the way his team hurried 3-point attempts when it trailed by one and three points late in the game rather than push the ball to Costner and McCauley who had been so effective inside.
Down three with the ball in the final 20 seconds, the Wolfpack’s chance to force overtime died when Costner’s 3-point attempt banged off the back rim.
“We hoped to get a wide open three or a quick two,” Lowe said. “He got a look at it.”
The Wolfpack got limited minutes from Courtney Fells, who eventually left the game with a shoulder injury that was to be evaluated further upon the team’s return to Raleigh.
Point guard Farnold Degand played just four minutes in his return after missing three games due to a knee injury. Backup Javier Gonzales struggled at times against Davidson, making seven turnovers though he had five steals.
For the Wolfpack, which shot just 26 percent in the second half, it was the first significant test of the still-young season.
After controlling the boards in the first half, N.C. State was outrebounded 29-18 in the second half and seemingly knocked back by Davidson’s interior defense after the break.
“We’re doing okay,” Lowe said when asked to assess his team at this point. “We’re moving in the right direction. We’re nowhere near where we need to be.
“We’re working hard. Now we have to be able to finish games like this.”
— Ron Green Jr.