PHILADELPHIA – In Friday’s Second Round NCAA Tournament clash, the No. 15 seeded University at Albany men’s basketball team gave the No. 2 Duke Blue Devils a valiant run. The Great Danes battled back from a 16-point deficit to make it an eight-point game with 4:40 remaining. However, in the end, Duke came out the victor, winning 73-61, advancing to play the winner of the Creighton-Cincinnati game. UAlbany’s season ends with a 24-11 record.
“We challenged them. We made Duke work. We made Duke beat us,” said head coach Will Brown.
“They're physically, athletically bigger than us at every single position,” he added. “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.”
Four UAlbany players reached double figures, led by Jacob Iati’s 15 points. Playing in his final career game, Iati went 3-for-4 from behind the arc, 4-4 from the free throw line, pulled down six boards, dished out six assists, and recorded three steals.
Redshirt freshman Peter Hooley played like a veteran, tallying 13 points, eight rebounds, and five helpers. Sam Rowley and Mike Black both contributed offensively with 10 points apiece, while Luke Devlin scored nine points in just 15 minutes on the court.
It was a tight first half battle between the Great Danes and Blue Devils, as Duke went into the locker room with a nine-point lead, 35-26.
The Blue Devils started off with an 8-2 run, as Seth Curry knocked down a three-pointer and Mason Plumlee finished with a free throw.
With 13:33 left in the half, UAlbany came within four, 13-9, as Hooley hit his trademark three from in front of the Duke bench, and Devlin tapped in a missed layup.
Duke followed with a 7-0 run, extending the lead to 11, 20-9, with 11:59 left in the half. Curry capped the spurt with a jumper inside the paint. The Blue Devils held strong for the next eight minutes and expanded their lead to as much as 13, 31-18, with 3:59 remaining.
UAlbany responded with an 8-0 run and cut the deficit to five, 31-26, with 1:56 in the half after Iati sparked the run with two free throws. The Great Danes then knocked down back-to-back three-pointers, by Iati and Black.
The Blue Devils’ Rasheed Sulaimon closed the stanza with four made free-throws, giving Duke a nine-point lead at intermission.
Out of the break, Hooley nailed a three, cutting the margin to eight, 39-31, with 18:21 remaining. However, the Blue Devils responded with an 8-2 run, expanding the lead to 14, forcing Coach Brown to call a timeout.
The next play, Iati knocked down a three, but Curry answered with one of his own. From there, the Blue Devils held their lead in the double-digits, going ahead by as much as 16, 54-38, with 12:17 remaining.
Refusing to quit, the Great Danes continued to scrap. With 6:11 remaining Hooley hit a clutch three, making it a 10-point game. John Puk followed with a momentum-shifting block and Iati drew a foul on the play. At the line, Iati made both, cutting the margin to eight, 64-56, with 4:40 to go.
However, that was as close as the Great Danes would get. Curry took control for Duke, with back-to-back baskets after a loose ball scramble.
“The loose ball was probably the biggest play of the game,” said Iati. “I though I was going to get it, and right before I did, Plumlee tipped it a little bit and then it ricocheted off me right to Curry.”
Black knocked down a three with 2:40 remaining, making the score 68-59, but that would be Duke’s final single-digit lead.
Forced to foul, the Blue Devils made 3-of-5 free throws, securing the win.
Curry led all scorers with 26 points, followed closely by Plumlee’s 23 and team-high eight rebounds.
“Albany played like a team that just won a championship and had 24 wins,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Those veteran guards were terrific and their big guys were very physical. I thought they played really well, like we beat a team playing really well this afternoon."
The Great Danes shot 60 percent from three-point range (27-46), 36.5 percent from the field (9-15), and 87.5 percent (14-16) from the line, while Duke shot 36.4 percent (4-11) from behind the arc, 58.7 percent (27-46) from the floor, and 71.4 percent (15-21) from the charity stripe.
"We played with great toughness, great resiliency, like we have all year long, and I'm very happy for our University, very happy for our athletic department and our program,” added Coach Brown.
UAlbany’s 2012-13 campaign was one for the books. UAlbany recorded 24 wins -- the program’s Division I record -- captured the America East Conference Tournament title as the lowest seed (4) in conference history, and made its third NCAA Tournament appearance.