PHILADELPHIA Albany didn’t score on its first possession against Duke. Albany struggled even to attain forward progress. Every Albany player appeared double-teamed. The Blue Devils, meanwhile, converted an easy 3 on their first possession.
Albany, prepare to be overwhelmed.
But the Great Danes, a fine name for an underdog, weren’t. Although the Blue Devils held an almost permanent double-digit lead, they were unable to stretch it to 20 or 25.
Albany was smaller and less athletic at every position. Yet second-seeded Duke, an 18-point favorite, beat the 15th-seeded Great Danes only 73-61.
“Well, what every coach wants is a win, and they’re happy no matter how they get it,” says Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. “And if they say differently, then they’re lying.
“Obviously I’d rather have a game like Syracuse had (Syracuse beat Montana in its opening game NCAA men’s tournament game 81-34) because then I wouldn’t have to get so worked up and I’m getting to be an old guy and you don’t have to use as much energy. But that’s not the way it is in this tournament.”
Albany hit nine of 15 three-pointers and 14 of 16 free throws. No matter how effective the custodial staff, some of the Great Danes’ sweat forever will be embedded in the Wells Fargo Center floor.
“For us, it’s like the game of a lifetime,” says Albany guard Jacob Iati. “For (Duke) it’s just another day in the park.”
There are no walks in the park. Because of Duke’s sustained basketball excellence, the Blue Devils expect an opponent’s best effort and, one more time, they got it.
The favorites battled, too. Duke’s lead was down to eight with little more than four minutes remaining and the ball was loose beneath the Duke basket. Iati, Albany’s best player Friday, expected to claim it. But Seth Curry did. He went to the basket and converted a layup and the lead again was 10.
Curry was sensational. He scored 26 points on only 14 field goal attempts, and added six rebounds, two assists and two steals. Every time the underdogs attempted a run, there he was.
There was Mason Plumlee, too. He shot several sky hooks, a shot so old that it is not so much attempted as it is dusted off.
“I haven’t seen anybody attempt that shot in my 12 years at Albany,” says Albany coach Will Brown. “And he hit three of them.”
“I’ve taken a few this year,” says Plumlee. “Those are just the first couple to go down probably.”
Duke also benefitted from a 3-point shot off the glass by Curry.
If you watched Seth’s father, Dell, play for the Charlotte Hornets, and his brother, Stephen, play for the Golden State Warriors, you realize a Curry does not require assistance. Their shots are pure, up and in, clean and neat.
Seth, might we assume the bank shot was deliberate?
He looks down, thinking.
“No, I didn’t call that one,” says Curry. “I thought I got a little contact on the shot, honestly. But I was feeling good tonight, and it went down for me.”
“Hopefully, you see a few more,” says Krzyzewski, meaning more accidental 3-pointers and perhaps more victories.
“Whatever it takes,” Curry says.
If there’s a mantra for the Blue Devils and the tournament, there it is.