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. But Albany was within single digits twice in the final five minutes.
Both times, Seth Curry killed the threat.
Jacob Iati hit two free throws to make it 64-56 Duke with 4:04 left on the clock, and, suddenly, the Wells Fargo Center was full of Great Danes fans. On the next possession, 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, 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, Mason Plumlee said. I think you have to get better throughout the tournament to stay in the tournament. We know that we didn't play perfect, far from it, and we're 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 from the field. Curry led the Blue Devils with 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting and was a 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 Ryan Kelly and Curry added six of their own. None was bigger than Curry's loose ball offensive rebound that put the lead back at double digits.
We can't have guys going back early on defense, Plumlee said. We can't have guys leaking out on offense. We need more plays like that if we're going to win games.
Leading 35-26 at the break, the Blue Devils came out and scored on seven of their eight possessions in the second half. At that point, the lead was 52-38, and Duke would push that to as wide as 16 points with 12:17 remaining in the game. 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, Iati said. They didn't do anything that we didn't know was coming they just made a couple more plays than they did.
Whether is was Quinn 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 and getting the next win against Creighton and getting back to Indianapolis.
Rebounding has been a weakness for Duke all year, and the Great Danes, not a height-gifted team, pulled down 10 offensive rebounds with six coming from players 6-foot-6 or shorter. Albany collected 30.3 percent of its available offensive rebounds, compared to Duke's mark of 28.3 percent of its offensive rebounding opportunities.
"On the defensive side," Rasheed Sulaimon said, listing what Duke could do better, "A lot more talk and just finishing out the possession, mainly, with the rebound. There were a lot of loose balls that I think we could have gotten that, if we would have gotten, would have led to a fast-break and we could have sealed the game a little bit earlier."
The NCAA official scorekeeper gave Quinn Cook one more assist than he earned on the floor. It was Curry that had the dish to Mason Plumlee with 2:04 left in the game, but the book credited it to Cook.
Mike Krzyzewski was asked after the game if he watched Harvard, a No. 14 seed, upset No. 3 New Mexico for the school's first NCAA tournament win. The Crimson is coached by former Duke player and assistant Tommy Amaker.
"Yeah, I watched, and then__ I didn't fall asleep while they were playing, I fell asleep at halftime, so don't let Amaker think that I was letting him down," Krzyzewski said. "And when I woke up they had the lead, and then I stayed up. I thought it was an unbelievably well played game by both teams.
"You know, Tommy, he and Johnny (Dawkins) and (Mark) Alarie and (Jay) Bilas, (David) Henderson, they all started this stuff. So Tommy is like a son to me and I'm ecstatic for him, really. He's done that with losing his two best players this year (who left amid an academic scandal). I'm not going to want to schedule them next year. They've got everybody back and those two guys."
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley