NORMAN, Okla. - Blake Griffin and Oklahoma learned to never count out Stephen Curry.
Griffin had 25 points and a career-high 21 rebounds, freshman Willie Warren added 20 points and the 12th-ranked Sooners overcame the highest scoring game of Curry’s career to beat No. 21 Davidson 82-78 on Tuesday night.
The early season showcase was played out with first-round draft picks Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder watching from the front row, but there was plenty of star power on the court — with Griffin and Curry proving their preseason All-America status, and Warren showing why he was a McDonald’s All-America in high school last season.
Curry scored 44 points on 12-for-29 shooting and went 6-for-15 from 3-point range, and nearly willed his team back from a 21-point deficit.
But Griffin came up with a crucial offensive rebound in the final minute to keep Davidson (2-1) from getting the ball back with a chance to tie. Cade Davis hit three free throws in the final 24 seconds to seal the win for the Sooners (3-0), who advanced to the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off next week in New York where they will face UAB, which beat Arizona 72-71.
“I’m really proud of our guys for digging in and finding a way. People got to witness two great performances, two special performances by two special players, what Blake and what Stephen did,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said.
“Fortunately for us, we had some other guys step up for us and had a little bit more help.”
After Curry hit the opening basket of the second half to get Davidson within two, Oklahoma throttled down with a 23-4 run. Warren had six straight points and cupped his right hand to his ear to play to the crowd after the Wildcats called a timeout once the Sooners’ lead reached 10.
Griffin then added eight straight points, including three dunks to get the fans even more pumped. After Davis set up the third dunk with a steal, the two bumped chests and slapped five at midcourt at the start of another timeout. Davis then hit a 3-pointer from the right corner that made it 61-40.
But Curry wouldn’t go down without a fight. He scored nine points during Davidson’s 14-0 response that cut the lead to 61-54 and then got it even closer in the closing moments.
“You saw when we got up by 20, it’s never really enough,” said Taylor Griffin, Blake’s older brother and frontcourt partner. “They can come back quick. With a player like Curry, it’s like the game’s never over until all the seconds are off the clock.”
The comeback started when Curry was fouled on a 3-point attempt from the left wing, and made all three free throws. Capel thought his players got too emotional questioning the call, and that was a big enough opening for Davidson to exploit.
“When you have a team that shoots the basketball like they do, that’s what can happen. And when you have a player as special as Stephen Curry, that’s what can happen,” Capel said.
“Even when we were up by that large amount, I kept telling our guys, ‘It’s not over. We have to finish this game.”’
Curry set up Brendan McKillop for a 3-pointer from the right side to get the Wildcats within 79-73 with 1:41 to play, and then nailed a 3 from the left corner to cut the deficit in half.
Tony Crocker missed a 3-pointer at the other end for the Sooners, but Griffin leaped to get the carom on the opposite side and got the ball to Davis — who was a perfect 23-for-23 from the foul line last season.
Griffin also turned heads with his foul shooting. After making only 59 percent last season and going 9-for-22 in his first two games this season, Griffin was 11-for-12 against Davidson — all in the second half. Nine of the free throws came in a stretch immediately after Curry got Davidson within seven, helping the Sooners go back up 75-60.
Griffin, who passed up the chance to jump to the NBA after his freshman year, became the first Sooner with more than 20 rebounds in a game since Ernie Abercrombie had 22 against Mississippi State in 1996.
Taylor Griffin added 16 points and, along with Warren, helped pace Oklahoma until Blake Griffin came on with 21 points in the second half.
Andrew Lovedale had 10 points and was the only other player in double figures for Davidson, which stuck around by only committing five turnovers against the deeper and taller Sooners. Oklahoma had a 43-31 advantage on the boards but turned it over 17 times.
“It’s a disappointing game,” Curry said. “We came out and played to win. We didn’t get it tonight. ... We played hard all the way to the finish. We were down big and we made it a game, so I am proud of how we played.”
Curry compared the game to a four-point loss at top-ranked North Carolina in the Wildcats’ second game last season. After that, of course, Davidson became the Cinderella of the NCAA tournament by knocking off top 10 teams Georgetown and Wisconsin before giving eventual national champion Kansas a scare in the round of eight — launching Curry into celebrity status in the process.
“He’s special. You’re looking at a guy that’s one of the best guys out there,” Capel said. “That’s certainly one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. Our kid had a pretty doggone good performance, too.”
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