DAVIDSON, N.C. (AP)—Chattanooga served notice that Davidson’s defense of its Southern Conference title won’t be easy.
Stephen Curry scored 31 points in the second half as the No. 23 Wildcats held off a rally in the final two minutes Saturday night to beat the Mocs 100-95 in both teams’ league opener.
Curry, the preseason All-American and nation’s leading scorer, finished with 41 points for Davidson (8-1, 1-0). The Wildcats overcame 37.1 percent shooting in the first half to win their sixth straight game.
“We were trying to take care of business, but they attacked us from the start,” said Curry, who recorded his fifth career 40-point game and third this season. “They hit some tough shots, but we found a way to win down the stretch.”
Will Archambault added 20 points, Brendan McKillop 12 and Andrew Lovedale pulled down a career-high 18 rebounds for the Wildcats.
Davidson—which won the Southern Conference title last year before making its run to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament—also extended its league winning streak to 31 straight games, dating to February 2006.
But it wasn’t that easy against the Mocs (1-8, 0-1)—picked to win the league’s North Division title in a preseason coaches poll—who fought back from a 14-point deficit to have a chance at regaining the lead.
“It’s a great lesson for our guys,” Wildcats coach Bob McKillop said. “Every game in the Southern Conference, as always, is going to be a battle. No matter what our rankings are, no matter who we’ve beaten, historically Southern Conference games are battles for us. … They always have been and will always be.”
Davidson—which was picked to win the South Division title—fought back from a 10-point deficit midway through the first half to swap the lead with Chattanooga seven times.
The Mocs last led with 12:26 remaining, when Stephen McDowell’s jumper put them ahead 58-57. But Curry nailed a 3-pointer nine seconds later, followed by Steve Rossiter’s hook shot, to put the Wildcats back on top.
The Wildcats eventually pushed their lead to 92-78 on Curry’s 3-pointer with 2:20 remaining.
But McDowell scored 11 points in a 17-5 run that cut the Davidson lead to 97-95 with 24.5 seconds left. Curry went 3-of-4 from the free throw line over the final 18 seconds to seal the win.
“Curry’s special. I thought we did a good job on him, and he scores 31 in the second half,” Chattanooga coach John Shulman said. “And their other kids made big shots when they had to.
“We’ve been through the rough stretch of our schedule now. … When—not if, when—we decide to defend and rebound and be the team like we did last year, we’re going to be very good.”
McDowell finished with 31 points for the Mocs, who lost their fourth straight game to an AP Top 25 opponent. Kevin Goffney added 15 points, Keyron Sheard had 13 and Ty Patterson 11.
Chattanooga also lost to then-No. 14 Tennessee in its season opener on Nov. 15, and to both then-No. 12 Memphis and No. 19 Southern California in the Puerto Rico Tipoff Classic on Nov. 20-21.