PHILADELPHIA Albany coach Will Brown spent his pregame media session pumping up the Blue Devils, joking that even their managers were bigger, stronger and more physical than his team.
And the Blue Devils did eventually overpower the Great Danes in the 73-61 win on Friday. But Albany was within single digits twice in the final five minutes.
Both times, Seth Curry killed the threat.
Albany guardJacob Iati hit two free throws to make it 64-56 Duke with 4 minutes, 4 seconds left on the clock, and suddenly the Wells Fargo Center was full of Great Danes fans. On Dukes next possession, Quinn Cook missed a jumper, and the ball was loose on the floor. Both Iati and Mason Plumlee lunged for it, but it was Curry who came up with the loose ball and took it straight to the rim, extending the lead to double digits.
Those are the little plays that are going to win you a championship, Duke forward Ryan Kelly said. Obviously there are areas we could have improved and are going to improve on, but those little plays make the difference.
A few minutes later, Curry came up with another key play after a Mike Black 3-pointer had the Great Danes down 68-59 with 2:40 remaining. Curry had the ball at the top of the arc, faked the 3, and dished to Plumlee down low, who finished with a lay-up. That effectively sealed the game.
The job was to win, and we got that done, Plumlee said. I think you have to get better throughout the tournament to stay in the tournament. We know that we didnt play perfect, far from it, and were going to have to be better the next game if you want to win.
Offensively, Duke had its way with the Great Danes, hitting 58.7 percent of its shots from the field. Curry led the Blue Devils with 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting and was 2-of-2 from 3-point range. As a team, Duke shot 4-of-11 (36.4 percent) from deep much more efficient than the 4-for-25 performance in the ACC tournament against Maryland.
Plumlee added 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field, and no other Blue Devils finished in double figures. Plumlee also added eight rebounds, and Kelly and Curry added six rebounds of their own. None was bigger than Currys loose-ball offensive rebound that put the lead back at double digits.
We cant have guys going back early on defense, Plumlee said. We cant have guys leaking out on offense. We need more plays like that if were going to win games.
Leading 35-26 at the break, the Blue Devils came out and scored on seven of their first eight possessions. At that point, the score was 52-38, and Duke would widen that lead to 16 points with 12:17 remaining. Defensive lapses, though (especially on drives to the basket), allowed the Great Danes to hang around, which was their goal against the bigger, faster and more physical Blue Devils.
But when you play a team that just has better talent than you do, sometimes you come up short, said Iati, who led Albany with 15 points. They didnt do anything that we didnt know was coming. They just made a couple more plays than we did.
Whether it was Cook with one of his 11 credited assists, Plumlee with a sky hook or Curry snuffing out another rebound, Duke did what it needed to move on to the next round. With that victory in hand, the Blue Devils can, as Plumlee said, focus on getting better, getting the next win against Creighton and getting back to Indianapolis.