Published January 13, 2015
Albany coach Will Brown had an easy way to explain what his team had just gone through in losing 73-61 to second-seeded Duke on Friday in the Midwest Regional.
"I mean, look at the two teams. They're physically, athletically bigger than us at every single position," Brown said. "Our motto really has been to fight, scrape and claw. The problem is if you're playing another low-major or mid-major Division I program, you can probably get away with getting behind and coming back, getting behind and coming back.
"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. You know, Jacob Iati is going to work for J.P. Morgan next year and Mason Plumlee is going to the NBA, and it's like that at almost every position."
The Great Danes trailed by as many as 16 points. They did manage to pull within eight with 4:40 left, but that was as close as they would get.
"Albany played like a team that just won a championship and had 24 wins," Duke coach Mike Krzyzyewski said. "Those veteran guards were terrific and their big guys were very physical. I thought it was a great game for us. They shot the lights out of it — nine out of 15 from 3 — and hit every free throw."
The Blue Devils used the perimeter shooting of Seth Curry and the inside dominance of Mason Plumlee to put last season's NCAA tournament upset to rest.
It was in the same round — and with the same seeding — that Duke was shocked by Lehigh last March.
"Doesn't really matter to us what people are talking about," Plumlee said. "We're very confident. I thought it was a good win today, and we're just focused on us."
It may not have been a blowout against 15th-seeded Albany, but the Blue Devils (28-5) held a comfortable lead throughout and will play the winner of the game between seventh-seeded Creighton and No. 10 Cincinnati in the third round Sunday.
Curry scored 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting, and Plumlee was 9 of 11 — including six dunks — for 23 points.
Quinn Cook had 11 assists — many on lob passes inside to Plumlee — and Duke shot 58.7 percent (27 of 46), just off its season-best 60.8 percent against Florida State.
The Blue Devils, who lost 75-70 to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the second round last year, never really pulled away from the Great Danes (24-11).
"They're Duke for a reason. They're good for a reason. They have great players all around you," said Iati, who finished with 15 points. "They play in big games all season long and their whole careers every game is like that for them. For us, it's like the game of a lifetime; for them, it's just another day in the park.
"But I thought we battled. We played to win the game. We didn't think we were just coming here to play Duke and go home."
Krzyzewski extended his all-time lead with his 80th career victory in the tournament that he has won four times.
In addition to his dunks, Plumlee drew great reactions from the crowd when he made three hook shots — good old-fashioned hook shots that just aren't seen in college basketball much anymore.
"I've taken a few this year. Those are just the first couple to go down, maybe," the 6-foot-10 senior said, laughing. "I like coming across the middle when there's single coverage. I feel very confident. I have a couple of go-to moves. It's a hard shot to guard. I don't know why people don't do it more. But I love going to that move."
He certainly impressed Brown.
"Plumlee did the best Kareem Abdul-Jabbar imitation I've seen in a long time," he said. "He hit three sky hooks. I haven't even seen somebody attempt that shot in my 12 years at Albany, and he hit three of them."
Albany was making its third NCAA appearance, all since 2006 and all one-and-outs.
Peter Hooley had 13 points and Sam Rowley and Mike Black added 10 each for Albany, which also lost its first NCAA game in the Wells Fargo Center. The Great Danes fell to top-seeded Connecticut after leading by 12 points in the second half.
"I think we played as hard as we could. I think we left it all out on the floor," Iati said. "Personally I know I played as hard as I possibly could. I think we did a good job any time there was a loose ball diving on the floor, whatever you have to do."
Kelly had eight points for Duke, and the Blue Devils are 19-1 with the 6-foot-11 forward in the lineup this season. He missed 13 games with a right foot injury.
"When you get into the tournament, you play with a certain level of desperation," Kelly said. "They fought and fought for 40 minutes. We never expect any team to go away. They had guys that could shoot the ball."
The Great Danes shot 36.5 percent for the game (19 of 52). But they were 9 of 15 from 3-point range, the best by far of any Duke opponent this season and well above the 29.3 percent the Blue Devils had allowed.