CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)—Stephen Curry had just drilled a 30-foot fadeaway despite an awkward release that resembled a set shot—and it was too much for his buddy LeBron James to take.
The Cleveland Cavaliers great leaped from his courtside seat, took several steps and put his arms in the air, as if surrendering to the nation’s top scorer.
Get in line, LeBron.
Curry’s remarkable 3-pointer came with 1:21 left and was followed by two clinching free throws with 4.1 seconds remaining. They were part of Curry’s 44-point day in No. 22 Davidson’s 72-67 victory over North Carolina State on Saturday.
“He had just a little bit of room and you can’t give him too much room,” James said of Curry’s decisive 3 as the shot clock wound down. “It was a huge shot.”
After the latest dagger in his storybook career gave Davidson a 70-66 lead, Curry made eye contact with James, his texting buddy.
“I stared at him after and then I pointed at him,” said Curry, who matched a career high set last month in a loss to No. 6 Oklahoma. “Then my teammates came and we all went back to the bench. There was a little excitement.”
After being held scoreless for the first time his career 11 days ago thanks to a bizarre double-team strategy by Loyola (Md.) coach Jimmy Patsos, Curry scored Davidson’s final 10 points in his fourth game of 40 or more points in his career.
James, in town for the Cavaliers’ game against Charlotte later Saturday on the same court, spent the game cheering on Curry and even yelling at the officials, trying to get calls for his friend. James also ribbed teammate J.J. Hickson, a former N.C. State player who sat across the court behind the Wolfpack bench.
“His reactions to us on the floor are pretty cool to watch,” Curry said of James. “It’s all entertainment. We’re out there having fun and people appreciate it. That’s pretty cool, especially from him.”
Andrew Lovedale added 12 points and nine rebounds as Davidson (6-1) beat its Atlantic Coast Conference neighbor for only the second time in the past 38 meetings.
Brandon Costner had 18 points and 11 rebounds and Ben McCauley added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Wolfpack (4-1). Courtney Fells, who injured his shoulder, was held to four points, and the Wolfpack couldn’t overcome the dynamic Curry despite a big advantage in the paint.
“He’s one of those players in basketball right now, period, that you get somebody out to go watch,” James said. “He’s a really good talent.
“Not taking anything away from that school, but their team isn’t the best. But he makes those guys play hard and they compete every last game they’re in, even against teams people say they shouldn’t be. I can relate to that.”
James befriended Curry during Davidson’s dramatic run through the NCAA tournament last season. James was in Detroit for Curry’s 33-point performance in a win over Wisconsin, and the two met up again a week later when James was in Charlotte for a game against the Bobcats.
“He texted me this morning, saying good luck,” Curry said of James. “He said he was going to try to come to the game, but I didn’t expect him to come.”
James said he decided to attend the game 30 minutes before tipoff—“Being in my position, I can kind of do things like that,” he joked—and made his way to his seat near the baseline with just over 14 minutes remaining in the first half and N.C. State leading 16-7.
One of the first things James saw was an ugly foul.
Trevor Ferguson drove in for a layup when Davidson’s Max Paulhus Gosselin came in from behind and swiped his arm against Ferguson’s neck. Ferguson crashed to the floor back-first, and his head slammed against the court.
Referee Jamie Luckie immediately ejected Paulhus Gosselin, leaving Davidson without its top defender.
Ferguson left the game, but returned 2 minutes later. His 3-pointer with 4:11 left tied the game at 62.
Curry then took over, outscoring N.C. State himself 10-5 the rest of the way as James—and N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe—looked on in amazement.
“He’s not just a shooter. He’s a basketball player,” Lowe said.
Unlike Loyola’s strategy of constantly double-teaming Curry and leaving Davidson with a 4-on-3 advantage on the rest of the court, Lowe tried a variety of defenders 1-on-1.
Hardly anything worked. Save for a stretch where Curry missed seven of eight shots midway through the game, the skinny guard overcame suspect shooting from 3-point range (4-for-14) by hitting a variety of mid-range jumpers and running bank shots.
Curry finished 15-of-33 from the field and 10-of-13 at the line.
“After the game he texted me saying `Thanks for coming,”’ James said. “It was fun to watch. It was a really good game.”