Duke dispatches Albany, 73-61, at Wells Fargo Center

Posted: March 23, 2013

It was all so foreign for 15th-seeded Albany: Duke. Philadelphia. The NCAA tournament's bright glare.

And, like so many who find themselves in exotic locales, the Great Danes succumbed to a familiar pitfall on Friday - too much hot Curry.

Seth Curry, as cool as he was hot, scored 26 points on 10-for-14 shooting, sky-hooking Mason Plumlee added 23 points, and Duke used its typically relentless man-to-man defense to push past gritty but outclassed Albany, 73-61, in its entertaining 2013 NCAA tournament debut at the Wells Fargo Center.

"Our game plan was to stop him," said Albany coach Will Brown of Curry, a senior guard. "Obviously, we didn't do that."

Duke, which will meet seventh-seeded Creighton on Sunday, derived a palpable sense of relief with the tough opening-round win over the kind of scalp-hungry opponent they so often face. A year ago, the Blue Devils were eliminated at this stage by another 15th seed, Lehigh, that was determined to bring home a historic upset victory.

There are, coach Mike Krzyzewski said, no breathers when you're Duke.

"Every game we play is a huge game," Krzyzewski said. "We almost always get an opponent's best shot where people are not afraid to lose. They're going to gain something if they win against us, but they're also not going to lose anything if they lose to us. . . . Our guys have been in those situations really every game we play."

Duke (28-5) never trailed, but the 24-11 Great Danes of the America East never let up. Outsized and out-talented at every position, Albany dug deep - running through screens, crashing the boards, diving for loose balls. The Great Danes' 26 rebounds nearly matched the bigger Duke's 28.

"We battled," said senior guard Jacob Iati, who led Albany with 15 points and six assists. "I think we did a pretty good job of fighting to the end. But they're Duke for a reason. For us it's like the game of a lifetime. For them it's just another day in the park."

Curiously, it was one loose ball that Albany couldn't get that sealed its fate.

With just over four minutes to play and down by eight, Albany appeared to force a turnover. But a diving Plumlee slapped the loose ball out of Iati's grasp. Both teams converged on it like cavalries, but it kicked off Iati's knee and right to an open Curry. His uncontested layup upped Duke's lead to 10 and deflated the Great Danes sideline. Albany would not get as close again.

"When you play an elite program, a team that's going to compete for a national title this year, you can't afford to get behind by 12, 13, 14 points," Brown said. "Jacob Iati is going to work for J.P. Morgan next year. Mason Plumlee is going to the NBA. And it's like that at almost every position."

Duke's hard-fought win also provided some disconcerting news for Creighton and anyone else the Blue Devils might face in this tournament. The bouncing ball is bouncing Duke's way, Brown said.

Detractors who always want to believe the love-'em-or-hate-'em Blue Devils are more lucky than good had that view validated Friday. In addition to the fortuitous bounce on the key loose ball, Curry banked in a three-pointer. ("I didn't call that one," he admitted.) And Plumlee connected on three sky hooks.

"Plumlee did the best Kareem Abdul-Jabbar imitation I've seen in a long time," Brown said. "He hit three sky hooks. I haven't seen somebody attempt that shot in my 12 years at Albany. . . . Curry is banking in threes. We made that team work."

Contact Frank Fitzpatrick at ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @philafitz.

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