Duke gets past 15th seed this time

Duke's Mason Plumlee scores in win over Albany.DAVID SWANSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Duke's Mason Plumlee scores in win over Albany.DAVID SWANSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: March 24, 2013

As a general rule, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski doesn't look to the past when preparing for the NCAA Tournament.

The fact that the Blue Devils won national titles in 1991, 1992, 2001 and 2010 has no bearing on what the 2013 team might do.

"Well, you know, if we keep looking back at our experiences, then we would really get overconfident, because we've won four national championships and been to 11 Final Fours," said the coach who has won more Division I games than anyone and is tied with Adolph Rupp for second in Division I championships, behind John Wooden's 10. "There's no need to go back to good or bad experiences, because not all these guys were involved in that."

But 2012 was just 1 short year ago, and this time 1 year ago, four of the five current Duke starters were left stunned when they lost to Lehigh, just the sixth No. 2 seed ever to lose to a No. 15 in the NCAA Tournament.

So it's hard to imagine that the Duke players weren't having a bit of a flashback Friday when 15th-seeded Albany was sticking with them during the first half of their Midwest Region second-round game at Wells Fargo Arena.

Not dwelling on something doesn't mean you forget about it.

But the thing is that for every scenario in which you can point out that the Blue Devils have failed, they can point five times when they've succeeded in the same scenario.

So, yes, Albany, the gutty champion of the America East Conference, refused to roll over for mighty Duke, but in the end, the Blue Devils had the experience to weather the challenge and post a 73-61 victory.

"I don't think we panic in those types of situations," said Duke senior guard Seth Curry, who scored a game-high 26 on 10-for-14 shooting. "Over the years, I think we've been in every type of situation, whether it was being down or being up in a game when teams make runs to try to get back in the game.

"I think in the second half, we turned the ball over and then got into a huddle, then [senior forward Mason Plumlee] said, 'Just calm down and make the next play.' That's what we did going forward."

Call it fate, Blue Devil luck or whatever, but with about 4 minutes left in the game, one of those things happened that happen so often for successful programs like Duke.

Trailing, 64-56, Albany (24-11) saw its last big opening when Duke missed a shot, but the ball deflected off Albany guard Jacob Iati and to Curry, who made an easy layup.

"That loose ball was probably the biggest play of the game," said Iati, who led Albany with 15 points, six rebounds and six assists. "I thought I was going to get it, but just before I did, Plumlee tipped it a little bit. It deflected off me and went right to Curry."

The Great Danes weren't fostering any delusions of grandeur. They knew that in the end, it didn't come down to one big play that Duke made, but a series of big plays the Blue Devils made.

Whenever Albany looked to pull the game back within reach, Duke (28-5) always had the appropriate response.

"You just have to keep your cool," said Plumlee, who had 23 points and eight rebounds. "You know that when teams get behind, they aren't going to keep doing the same thing that got them behind in the first place.

"They are going to make adjustments and you have to be ready for them. I think in late-game situations, we've had success over our careers. And this team has done that this year. We definitely have experience."

Obviously, the ultimate goal of any team in the tournament - even a 15th seed - is to win, but it also helps to be reasonable about expectations.

Albany came to Philadelphia with the idea of beating Duke, but the Great Danes knew they would be satisfied with giving their ultimate effort and gaining respect.

Mission accomplished.

"I'm very proud of my guys," said Albany coach Will Brown. "We really competed. We played with great toughness and resiliency like we have all year long.

"We made [Duke] work. Our motto was to fight, scrape and claw. If you're playing another midlevel program, you can get away with getting behind and going back. When you play an elite program, one that is going to compete for a national championship, you can't afford to get behind by 12, 13 or 14 points. Look at the two teams. They're physically, athletically bigger than us at every single position.

"You know, Jacob Iati is going to work for J.P. Morgan next year while Mason Plumlee is going to the NBA. It was like that at almost every position. I'm proud of my guys. I can't sit here and comfortably say we challenged Duke. We made Duke work. We made Duke beat us."

And despite their historic stature and high seeding, that's all Duke was looking for - a victory and the opportunity to play No. 7 seed Creighton, a 67-63 winner over Cincinnati, on Sunday.

"This was a good, tough win for us," Krzyzewski said. "Albany played like a team that had just won a [conference] championship and had 24 wins. We beat a team that played really well.

"What every coach wants is a win, and they're happy no matter how they get it, and if they say differently, then they're lying."


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: philly.com/Smallwood

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