For much of the night, West Virginia had held Davidson superstar Stephen Curry in check during the opening game of the annual Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. At one point, the Mountaineers had harassed the All-American guard to the tune of 11 consecutive missed shots from the field.
In crunch time, though, Curry showed why he is on everyone's list for Player of the Year, scoring 13 of his game-high 27 points in the final five minutes to lift the Wildcats to a 68-65 win over the shorthanded Mountaineers.
A pair of free throws by Wellington Smith with 1:32 to play gave West Virginia a four-point lead to tie its biggest advantage of the game. Moments later, Curry pulled the Wildcats to within 62-61 with a 3, and hit another three with 37 seconds remaining to give Davidson the lead for good.
"The kid makes two incredible shots to beat us," said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. "I don't care who you are; those are hard shots.
"Those are hard shots. Those are hard, hard shots."
For the most part, the Mountaineers contained Curry as well as any team has in some time. Switching on virtually every on-ball screen the Wildcats set, West Virginia's defenders teamed up to hold the nation's leading scorer to just five made shots in his first 22 attempts. Still, Curry was able to make four of his final five to hand the Mountaineers the loss.
West Virginia played without the services of leading scorer Alex Ruoff, who injured his right shoulder in practice prior to the Davidson game. Starting point guard Joe Mazzulla returned to the lineup with his injured left shoulder, but was visibly limited before leaving the game for good around the midway point of the first half. Reserve guard Jonnie West broke a bone in his foot on Monday, making WVU's already-depleted backcourt even thinner.
Despite their barren backcourt, the Mountaineers had almost enough to topple No. 23 Davidson, thanks in large part to the play of junior forward Da'Sean Butler, who recorded career highs of 24 points and 14 rebounds.
For parts of the first half, it didn't look like the Mountaineers would be in the game at all. Another lackluster effort from the foul line combined with some mental lapses that led to a failure to get back on defense helped West Virginia dig a deficit as big as nine points in the first half.
"We hurt ourselves in the first half," said Huggins. "We missed 10 free throws. We don't get back on defense. We turn it over 13 times."
The Wildcats scored their first eight points on runouts, and often released one or two players off of the defensive end after West Virginia put up a shot in hopes of getting easy baskets. Though that often led to easy offensive rebounds for the Mountaineers – who finished with 29 on the night – it also resulted in Davidson beating them down the court from time to time.
Add to that the first-half turnover problems resulting from too much one-on-one play, and it isn't hard to figure out why the Wildcats led 36-29 at the break.
"I was really upset with them at halftime because it looked like every man for himself, quite honestly," Huggins said. "We didn't pass the ball. We didn't reverse the ball. We turned the ball over because we constantly took it into the teeth of their defense."
In the second half, the Mountaineers played more as a team and continued to dominate the glass. West Virginia had 21 second-chance points. Starting forwards Butler and Devin Ebanks did the most damage on the glass, combining for 31 total rebounds, 14 of which came on offense.
Ebanks also finished with 13 points, a career-high. His 17 rebounds matched the career-high he set in last Saturday's win over Cleveland State.
Even with an ice-cold 33 percent shooting from the floor and another bad game from the foul line, the Mountaineers had a chance to win the game because of its play on defense and on the glass.
"The reality is, we haven't shot the ball well all year and we have to rebound it," Huggins said. "I thought our guys, honestly, it was a monumental effort to rebound the basketball, particularly when (Davidson) is standing in the lane because they aren't guarding half of our team. I've got no problems with our effort. We made some bad decisions with the ball, but our effort was as good as it could be in the second half."
In the end though, Curry's effort was what it always seems to be – clutch.
"He didn't shoot the ball well. We guarded him," said Huggins. "We bothered him, we really did. For him to step up at the end and make those shots, he's a great player."
West Virginia will not play again until Saturday when it travels to Duquesne. The availability of Ruoff and Mazzulla for that game is unknown. West is out indefinitely.