INDIANAPOLIS -- Stephen Curry cut left, and Chris Kramer went with him. Curry cut right, and the 2008 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year stayed nose to nose. Curry feinted left and went right, zigged one way and zagged back, sliced off screens and Kramer was there, in his face like halitosis, unshakable.
Finally, after an exhausting 30 seconds of continuous motion, Curry got a sliver of daylight and caught the basketball about 22 feet from the basket. Kramer had been shed, but Purdue teammate E'Twaun Moore had arrived as the Davidson star's new companion. The shot clock dipped under five seconds, the game clock dwindled toward 5½ minutes remaining.
Curry offered a couple of brief moves and then rose tiredly for his trademark jumper with Moore's hand in his mug. The ball hit nothing but net.
No, not the usual Steph Curry nothing but net. His shot weakly ruffled the outside of the Conseco Fieldhouse nylon.
That was how the best shooter in college basketball spent his Saturday -- missing, missing, missing shots under constant pressure from a rotating cast of relentless Boilermakers. The kid who mass-produced more thrills than any baller in the country from March through the first six weeks of this season mass-produced bricks in the John Wooden Tradition.
Twenty-six shots attempted for Curry against the Boilers. Twenty-one missed -- the most in his 79-game college career.
Thirteen points scored. Nineteen less than his best-in-the-nation average.
Not coincidentally, Davidson was blown out of the building. The final score was 76-58, but the important numbers are these: The Wildcats trailed an astounding 21-0 after seven minutes and never again got closer than 12.
This was a burial. And an exposure. The perils of being a one-man team against quality competition were on full display.
Even Super Steph has his limits, and Davidson is testing those limits right now.
"Stephen Curry has gone through an extraordinary six months," coach Bob McKillop said. "The pressures he's been able to play through and handle, off and on the court -- I don't know how he does it.
"We can't leave the hotel without someone popping out from around a pillar to ask him for an autograph. We expect him to bring the ball up the floor, lead us in scoring, guard E'Twaun Moore and deliver us from evil. I just put too much on him."
Can you blame McKillop? If you were the coach at Davidson and you recruited the best player in school history, wouldn't you ask him to do everything short of healing the sick and giving sight to the blind? If you had a basketball savior who kept rising to meet ever-increasing demands, wouldn't you keep expecting miracles? Would loaves and fishes for the pregame meal be too much to ask, Steph?
Sure you would keep pushing -- until one day the guy gets his uniform wet while walking on water. Now it's time to devise a gameplan that includes a concession to the star player's mortal side. The wear and tear is showing.
"I've got to figure out in these next four or five days how to take some of that pressure off of him," he said. "Because I am wearing him down."
There were some glimmers of an answer in the second half Saturday. McKillop's son, Brendan, did a solid job running the offense. Senior guard Max Paulhus Gosselin chipped in some table-setting duties as well.
Those two could combine to let Curry shift from point guard to shooting guard for stretches of time, alleviating part of his humongous workload. And now that Davidson has navigated most of its ambitious nonconference schedule at a healthy 8-2, the Southern Conference slate provides two months to develop the supporting cast.
Right now, Davidson understandably misses the contributions of 2007-08 seniors Jason Richards, Thomas Sander and Boris Meno. They were the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 scorers on last year's regional finalist team, but that was just a fraction of their contributions.
Richards expertly ran the point, allowing Curry to hunt shots off screens solidly set by Sander and Meno. It was strikingly evident Saturday how many of Davidson's screens missed their mark, as Purdue defenders easily slid past and stayed with Curry everywhere he went.
"A lot of people don't realize," Purdue coach Matt Painter said, "they lost some good players."
Going forward, the Wildcats will need more from post players Steve Rossiter (two points, no rebounds, five fouls in 10 minutes) and Ben Allison (two points, three rebounds, four missed free throws in nine minutes). If they can develop raw-but-promising, 6-foot-9 freshman Frank Ben-Eze in the coming months, that would be a huge plus.
But even as McKillop works to diversify his team, it will not go any farther in March than the savior can take it. This is still Steph's show.
Davidson had survived an 18-miss night from Curry against West Virginia because the Wildcats hung around and Curry got heroically hot at the end. Davidson had hung in the game at Oklahoma on a 17-miss night from Curry because the guy went 14-for-14 from the foul line. But the combination of Curry's 0-for-8 start and Purdue's own torrid shooting (11-of-18 from 3-point range) was too much to overcome.
With the ball going in the basket routinely against some major mismatches, the Boilers finally resembled the top-10 team they were billed to be. They were panicky late in a neutral-floor loss to Oklahoma and panicky early in a home-court blowout loss to Duke, so there was something to prove in this game against a Top 25 team and a top-two player.
"It was a great team defensive effort [on Curry]," Kramer said. "We had a lot of guys guard him. In the first half I thought we got him pretty tired. We jammed him off every screen."
They also picked him up the entire length of the court, making Curry work against lightning-quick freshman Lewis Jackson just to get the ball up-court and initiate Davidson's offense. That took its toll.
"Their three-guard rotation can pressure you all the way down the floor," Curry said. "I think that's the first time all year we've seen that for 40 minutes."
They'll see it more in the near future. Stephen Curry can count on that. Which means he's going to need a little more help from his friends if Davidson is going to reprise last season's dream run.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.