Had Seth Curry had smiled anymore, he might have owed royalties to the Mona Lisa.
With a towel hung across his neck and a General Electric powered grin across his face, Curry stood outside his corner locker and soaked in Duke's come-from-behind 79-73 win over North Carolina.
The wait was over.
"It was for more than what I thought it would be," Curry said of his first tilt between college basketball's bitterest rivals. "The atmosphere was crazy. ... I was looking around before the game and I was like, 'This is what I dreamed about growing up.'"
On the biggest regular-season stage in college basketball, Seth Curry had his signature performance. The sophomore scored 22 points, including 18 in the second half as the Blue Devils rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit, handed out six assists and grabbed five rebounds.
And smiled, and smiled, and smiled.
Curry sat out all of last season after transferring from Liberty, yet the skilled shooting guard did everything but suit up for the Devils. He was praised by his teammates for his work ethic in practice, extolled for his offense, and embraced as a teammate.
But he could only watch as Duke clubbed North Carolina by 32 in Cameron last season, a pivotal win as the team coalesced into a March lion. He could only serve as cheerleader in chief when they reached the Final Four, and he could only swap high fives with his teammates as they cut down the nets Indianapolis.
Even as the 2011 season broke at Midnight Madness, Curry was again the man in the wings as the championship team was awarded up its rings. Krzyzewski railed against the NCAA's prohibition against transfer students receiving rings, calling the rule "totally wrong," and "archaic," but Curry nonetheless was an outsider for another night.
To add injury to insult, Curry caught an inadvertent elbow from Nolan Smith in the opening night practice and missed most of the scrimmages while getting eight stitches.
It all went on the mental bulletin board Curry kept carefully indexed. Motivation mounted.
"I think I am (the hungriest), out of all the players that were her last year that are still here," Curry told FanHouse after Midnight Madness in October. "I was with them for the ride last year and I didn't get a ring. I know what it takes to get there, I saw them get there, so I just want to get back there in my playing career."
Curry's ascent to Wednesday's star turn was as stop-and-start as a Manhattan rush hour. He scored 14 points a game over his first there with Duke, then had just 13 total points in his next six. Primarily a spot-up shooter before point guard Kyrie Irving's injury, he took on extra ball handling duties when the super frosh became known for his busted toe instead of breaking ankles.
Duke coach Mike Krzyewski tinkered with his backcourt rotation and Curry's production remained erratic –zero against Miami, 20 against Boston College – but the redshirt sophomore always handled it with aplomb, like the coach had asked him to change sneaker colors rather than step out of the starting lineup.
"I've been comfortable coming off bench the last few games," Curry said Monday. "You start a few, don't start few. ... Whatever coach asks I go out and do."
Wednesday, Curry filled the blank in the mad lib that is Duke's offense behind Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler this year, a role which has rotated through the Brothers Plumlee, Andre Dawkins, Curry and Ryan Kelly. While Kyle Singler looked like he was trying to sink a basketball in a golf cup during a 3-for-17 shooting night, Curry stepped up.
Like Duke's Elite Eight win over Baylor that Curry watched from the sideline, two guards picked the team up as their All-American forward struggled. In March, it was Scheyer and Smith combining for 49 points.
Wednesday, it was Smith and Curry and a half of basketball as good as any Duke duo has ever played.
Starting in place of Tyler Thornton in the second frame, Curry assisted on a Smith 3-pointer to complete a four-point possession and cut the margin to 43-33 with 19:12 to play, then added a 3-pointer of his own to complete a second four-point trip less than two minutes later.
The pair scored 24 straight points to tie the game at 54, the game-tying bucket on a nifty Curry pump fake that sent Dexter Strickland into the breeze and left Curry with an open look at the basket.
After all that waiting, Curry knew exactly what to do.
"I got into a good rhythm in the second half," Curry said, a surprisingly sober response for a man who looked like he was debating how to spend his lottery winnings. "My teammates got me open. We were just playing together out there."
By the time the second half came to a close, Smith had a career-high 34 points, Curry a Duke-best 22 points and the pair had combined for 40 of the team's 50 points.
"Seth knows he's a very good player, and he knows he can play in this league," Smith said. "Tonight he showed that, on the biggest stage. He showed up tonight and played the way we know he can."
For Curry, who said Monday he watched every Duke-Carolina game growing up, it was a matter of finally earning a place not on the Duke sidelines, but in the history books.
"It's special," Curry beamed. "You feel like you're leaving something behind at Duke by winning these types of games."
For Seth Curry, after a year on the sideline and four months finding his role, the waiting is over.
The smiling has just begun.