DAVIDSON, N.C. – The scene was surreal: Davidson’s Stephen Curry standing off to the corner with two defenders draped over him while his teammates were playing in a virtual 4-on-3 power-play, making one wide-open 3-pointer after another.
The nation’s leading scorer was held without a point for the first time in his stellar career Tuesday night, attempting only three shots. Yet Curry’s teammates scored almost at will in the No. 24 Wildcats’ 78-48 rout of Loyola, Md.
“I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve stood in the corner for 25 seconds every time,” Curry said.
The bizarre strategy by Greyhounds coach Jimmy Patsos left the participants dumbfounded, the crowd stunned, and plenty of questions of why Patsos stuck with the plan even after Davidson scored 18 straight points in the first half.
“I thought their coach was trying to prove a point and I didn’t appreciate it very much,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said.
But Patsos was making no apologies for using a triangle-and-2 defense – on one player.
“Anybody else ever hold him scoreless?” Patsos said. “I’m a history major. They’re going to remember that we held him scoreless or we lost by 30?”
That willingness to apparently accept defeat to shut down the nation’s most dynamic scorer was met with criticism Wednesday.
“If the coach thinks that that’s what he needed to do to win the game, then I’m all for it,” said Fran Fraschilla, an ESPN analyst and former coach at St. John’s. “But if the object is to try to shut one guy down, knowing that you’re not going to have much of a chance to win, then I think it creates a problem.”
Curry, the darling of last season’s NCAA Tournament, came in averaging 35 points a game. The first-team All-American scored 44 points against Oklahoma earlier this month, then followed that up with 30 and 39 points against Winthrop and Florida Atlantic.
“If Oklahoma can’t stop him, how is Loyola College going to stop him?” Patsos said.
So Patsos put two defenders on Curry. At first, the junior was confused, but by the third possession he realized what was happening. Davidson’s coaching staff thought about still trying to run the nation’s best shooter off screens, but Curry waved them off.
“I think in the second huddle he said, ‘Coach, I’ll just stand in the corner and keep two guys with me and we’ll play 4-on-3’,” McKillop said. “And that’s basically what he did.”
Whipping the ball around the perimeter, somebody was always open. Andrew Lovedale scored with ease inside, finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Bryant Barr hit six 3-pointers and scored 18 points.
Davidson turned a 9-4 deficit into a 22-9 lead, all with Curry hanging out in the corner.
“I had all day to shoot,” Barr said.
Patsos didn’t budge with his strategy, even as the lead grew to 34 points.
McKillop, clearly annoyed, kept Curry in the game until the final minute while his reserves continued to hit open 3s.
“I thought when we had reached a point of 15 points, 18 points that he was going to say, ‘OK, there’s no need to continue this. We’re not going to leave Bryant Barr open anymore. We’re not going to leave Will Archambault and Lovedale open anymore,’ ” McKillop said. “It just seemed puzzling to me why he continued to stay in it.”
Patsos, in his fifth season at Loyola and fresh off signing a contract extension, defended himself in a rambling postgame news conference.
“I’m not too worried with how people perceive me,” said Patsos, a former assistant under Gary Williams at Maryland. “Why, for playing triangle- and-2? They only had 78 (points). The problem is we had 21 turnovers and 48 points.”
It was the second time in a week Patsos was involved in a bizarre story. In a loss to Cornell last week, Patsos allowed his assistants to coach for a stretch and then sat in the stands for a few minutes because he claimed he was being unfairly targeted by a referee after picking up a technical foul.
His unorthodox decision Tuesday also took Loyola’s top scorer out of the game. Brett Harvey was held scoreless as he was one of the players shadowing Curry.
“So in a sense they gave up their offense to try to stymie our offense,” McKillop said. “And it actually opened up the opportunity for our offense to explode.”
For Curry, the game might have even enhanced his image. He refused to force up shots despite his predicament. He joked about having “the best seat in the house” to watch the game.