RALEIGH, N.C. – It had been 39 years since Davidson won an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game. It had been six seasons since anybody scored 40 points against Gonzaga.
Stephen Curry ended both streaks with a smooth, quick flick of his right wrist, shot after shot. The sophomore guard poured in 30 of his 40 points in the second half as 10th-seeded Davidson rallied past No. 7 Gonzaga 82-76 in a first-round NCAA tournament game Friday at the RBC Center.
Curry made 8 of 10 3-pointers, including the dagger with 1:04 left after teammate Andrew Lovedale snatched a rebound away from Gonzaga’s Jeremy Pargo. That bucket put the Wildcats (27-6) on the path to their 23rd straight win as Gonzaga missed two open 3-pointers in the closing minute. Davidson will face second-seeded Georgetown, which defeated Maryland-Baltimore County 66-47.
Curry ran defenders around myriad screens to get his share of open shots, but he also made several over the outstretched arms of defenders seemingly in good position. It was the second time this season Curry reached 40 – the other a 41-point effort against North Carolina-Greensboro. Gonzaga hadn’t yielded 40 since Washington State’s Marcus Moore had 42 in GU’s 110-104 overtime victory on Dec. 7, 2002.
“He made shots guarded, unguarded, every which way possible,” Pargo said. “He made an 11-foot floater (left-handed) for an and-one. What can you say?”
Gonzaga (25-8) said goodbye after the first round of the NCAAs for the second straight season. GU led by as many as 11 in each half, but Curry brought the Wildcats back. He scored 22 of his team’s first 26 points in the second half.
“It was like an opening-night performance on Broadway and he was the star,” said Davidson coach Bob McKillop, a New York native. “But he had a great cast with him.”
Gonzaga, spurred by seven 3-pointers by freshman guard Steven Gray, had the upper hand for roughly 30 minutes. Gray’s shots barely grazed the rim, if at all, and his fourth and fifth 3s came on consecutive possessions to give the Bulldogs their biggest lead at 28-17 with 8:07 left.
Gonzaga could have widened the gap, but 12 first-half turnovers got in the way, including turnovers on five straight possessions that allowed the Wildcats to close within 28-24. The Bulldogs, who led 41-36 at half, were the aggressors for most of the first 30 minutes, running down loose balls and dominating the boards.
But it was the Wildcats who made the majority of hustle plays in the last 10 minutes, several of which generated crucial points. Davidson caught up at 62-all on – what else? – a long 3-pointer by Curry and took its first lead, 66-65, with 8:25 left on a putback by Stephen Rossiter.
“We got the 50-50 balls, the loose balls at the start of the second half,” Bulldogs senior forward Abdullahi Kuso said, “but they just turned it around on us down the stretch.”
Pargo scored eight of GU’s last 11 points, but he misfired on a long 3-pointer that prompted a discussion with Few near the bench after David Pendergraft was whistled for a foul on the rebound.
Another Lovedale offensive rebound led to Curry’s back-breaking 3-pointer and a 77-74 lead.
“I was pretty much there with the ball (on the rebound) and basically got stripped,” Pargo said.
Gonzaga freshman forward Austin Daye, who finished just 3 of 13 from the floor, missed a 3-pointer and Lovedale’s two free throws bumped Davidson’s lead to 79-74. Gray was short on a 3-pointer. Daye then missed a free throw and GU committed a violation on his second foul shot. Curry made 3 of 4 free throws in the final 14.5 seconds to seal it.
Gray led GU with a season-high 21 points as the Bulldogs finished 50.9 percent of its field-goal attempts. Richards supported Curry with 15 points and nine assists. Lovedale added a double-double (12 points, 13 boards).
In the closing seconds, Curry chucked the ball high into the air and celebrated with Richards in the backcourt.
“He reminds me of (ex-Zag Dan) Dickau,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said. “He has a very simple shot. He doesn’t need space or time to get it off.”
It was a disappointing conclusion for the Bulldogs, who dropped their last two games.
“Any time you lead for 90 percent of the game, it’s tough to let a team come back on you and take the lead,” Pargo said. “We made some bonehead plays later in the game, including me probably more than others. We had great contributions from Josh (Hetyvelt, 12 points, eight rebounds) and Steven. We just gave up too many things. … It’s very disappointing. The sky was the limit for us, especially seeing what we had coming down the road. It just hurts right now.”
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