College Basketball

Duke women survive Albany in NCAA opener, 54-52

Duke's Rebecca Greenwell shouts following her 3-point basket to take the lead against Albany late in the second half of a women's college basketball game in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Durham on Friday, March 20, 2015. Duke won 54-52.
Duke's Rebecca Greenwell shouts following her 3-point basket to take the lead against Albany late in the second half of a women's college basketball game in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Durham on Friday, March 20, 2015. Duke won 54-52. AP

One big shot on Friday showed exactly why Rebecca Greenwell was recruited to Duke.

The redshirt freshman poured in 20 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer from the right elbow with 14.9 seconds to go, as the Blue Devils escaped Albany 54-52 in the first round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

No. 16 Duke, (22-10) seeded fourth in the Spokane Regional, will play in the second round on Sunday at noon against the winner of Friday’s second game between No. 5 seed Mississippi State and No. 13 seed Tulane.

Greenwell’s big shot gave Duke a 53-52 lead, then Azura Stevens added one of two free throws with 6.4 seconds left.

Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie was a bit somber after the win, which knocked her former Maine and Michigan State assistant Katie Abrahamson-Henderson’s gutsy team out of the tournament in the first round for the fourth year in a row.

“The best we played was in the last minute as far as what we were supposed to be doing and how we do it,” McCallie said. “I’m proud of the fight (Elizabeth Williams) showed down the stretch to make some things happen, and obviously from Becca in terms of stepping up to make a huge play.

“Albany is a terrific team, and it was hard to see Katie after that because they deserved so much. But at the same time when you make shots like Becca made that deserves a lot, too.”

The game was never easy for the Blue Devils, whose biggest lead was eight points in the first half.

In the end it was Greenwell’s 6-for-11 shooting – along with a huge height differential – that made the difference.

“I think we drew up a great play,” said Greenwell, who missed last season following surgery on her right knee. “The last play, everyone went with (Williams), so I just curled off and (Ka’lia Johnson) did a great job of finding me and I just let it go. Once I turned I had my feet set so I didn’t think about it, and I think that paid off.”

The 6-foot-3 senior Williams finished with nine blocked shots, nine points and 12 rebounds, while 6-4 Amber Henson added seven points and 10 rebounds. Stevens, the 6-5 freshman from Cary, added 11 points and nine rebounds while 6-4 classmate Erin Mathias chipped in six points.

Imani Tate had 17 points and a career-high eight steals and Shereesha Richards 12 points for No. 13 seed Albany (24-9), which has won four straight America East Conference tournaments.

Duke shot 44.4 percent to 30.2 for the Great Danes, who have only the freshman Tiana-Jo Carter – who finished with 10 rebounds – taller than 6-1. The Blue Devils won the rebound battle 47-31 but committed 27 turnovers to Albany’s 14.

“We knew (Duke’s) size was going to be tough and that we needed to push back on the glass, but they had too many second chances,” Abrahamson-Henderson said.

There were 11 lead changes in the game, the second-to-last one with 3 minutes, 6 seconds left when Tate’s jumper gave the visitors a 49-48 lead. Albany was up 52-48 following a Sarah Royals free throw at 2:06 and had the ball with a chance to expand the lead.

But Williams hit a layup at 1:10 to cut the margin to two. Williams missed a pair of free throws with 22 seconds left but got a steal three seconds later before Johnson fed an open Greenwell for what proved to be the winner. Stevens rebounded a Tate miss and then hit the first of two free throws.

The victory was safe only after the Great Danes’ Erin Coughlin missed a 3-point attempt from the right corner at the buzzer.

Duke is 16-1 at Cameron this season, with the loss being a 51-50 decision to then top-ranked South Carolina on Dec. 7.

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