DURHAM, N.C. – The 16th-ranked Duke Blue Devils scraped and clawed their way to a 54-52 first-round win over the Albany Great Danes in the 2015 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship Tournament at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Friday.
Rebecca Greenwell (20 points, 3 rebounds) led Duke, hitting six three-pointers, including the go-ahead basket with 17 seconds to play.
“We’re very pleased to be moving on,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
It was a very good game – a very defensive game.”
Greenwell’s efforts were supported by strong finishes from Azura Stevens (11 points, 9 rebounds), Elizabeth Williams (9 points, 12 rebounds), and Amber Henson (7 points, 10 rebounds).
Williams and Stevens led Duke on the boards as the Blue Devils outrebounded the Great Danes by a 47-31 margin.
Imani Tate (17 points, 6 rebounds) and Shereesha Richards (12 points, 5 rebounds) kept the Great Danes in the game throughout.
Duke shot 45-percent from the field while the Great Danes successfully stayed close, shooting a modest 30 percent overall.
“They did everything we asked,” a choked-up Albany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said of her team.
“They fought like warriors.”
“I thought we ouplayed them, I’m not afraid to say it,” senior Great Danes guard Sarah Royals said.
“It just didn’t go our way.”
Match-up: Both teams met for the third time with fourth-seeded Duke leading the all-time series 2-0, having last met 13th-seeded Albany back on Dec. 19, 2013.
Each time the Blue Devils have been in the NCAA Tournament, they have won at least one game, and advanced to the Regional 15 of the last 17 years, and to the Elite Eight 11 times.
Duke – (20-45/7-12 3Ptr) – Rebecca Greenwell (20 points, 3 rebounds), Azura Stevens (11 points, 9 rebounds), Elizabeth Williams (9 points, 12 rebounds), Amber Henson (7 points, 10 rebounds)
Albany – (19-63/4-15 3Ptr) – Imani Tate (17 points, 6 rebounds), Shereesha Richards (12 points, 5 rebounds)
Halftime: Duke 26, Albany 25
Duke – (10-22/5-8 3Ptr) Rebecca Greenwell (14 points, 1 rebound), Amber Henson (7 points, 3 rebounds)
Albany – (9-29/2-6 3Ptr) Shereesha Richards (8 points, 2 rebounds), Imani Tate (7 points, 1 rebound)
What happened: The Great Danes got out to an early 4-3 lead during the first few minutes of play.
Back-to-back baskets from Henson gave Duke its first lead.
Greenwell dropped consecutive three-pointers to push the lead to 13-6 with 12:17 to go in the first half.
The Great Danes struggled from the field, shooting only 21 percent to start the game as Duke built its margin up to eight points, leading 18-10.
While Albany eventually hit a few shots, the Blue Devils maintained their comfortable lead until the Great Danes caught fire.
Albany put together a 12-2 run led by Richards that erased their deficit and put the Great Danes ahead 22-20 with 4:23 to play.
Greenwell quickly answered back with a three to put the Blue Devils back ahead.
Both teams traded three’s while fighting to pull ahead.
Duke managed to hold a 26-25 lead at halftime.
A layup and a steal and layup from Azura Stevens extended the Blue Devils lead to 30-36 early in the second half.
The Great Danes hit another scoring drought with Richards in the game.
Duke took advantage of it and built up 34-28 lead, care of successive baskets from Erin Mathias (6 points, 2 rebounds).
Albany finally found its pace again while the Blue Devils lost theirs.
The Great Danes pulled to within three, trailing 36-33 with 12:34 to go.
Tate scored six points as part of Albany’s run to pull within two as the Blue Devils led 41-39.
Albany took advantage of Duke turnovers and missed shot attempts and retook the lead 44-43 with 5:22 to play.
A three-bomb from Margarita Rosario (6 points, 2 rebounds) had the small, but boisterous contingent from Upstate New York on their feet in the stands.
Stevens quickly retook the lead for Duke.
As both teams battled for every possession with the crowd noise at its peak, technical fouls to Henson and Tate following a ball-possession scramble took the energy out of the building as the officials relayed the calls to the scorer’s table and benches.
When play resumed, both teams picked up where they left off – missing baskets and fighting for loose balls and turnovers.
A steal and a drive by Royals (6 points, 4 assists) dropped while she was fouled by Stevens.
The basket put Albany ahead again by one, and the ensuing free throw added to the lead, 47-45, with 3:56 to play.
Greenwell knocked down a three just 35 seconds later, her first points of the second half, but Tate’s jumper still kept the Great Danes ahead.
A turnover and a jump ball in favor Albany opened the lane for Tate to stop and pop a shot over Henson, with a foul shot to add.
The Great Danes led 52-48 with two minutes to go.
A missed shot by Albany allowed Williams to score from the paint.
Duke trailed 52-50 with under a minute to go.
Another missed shot by the Great Danes and Duke had the ball with 33.5 seconds to play.
Williams got the ball and was fouled.
She missed the first and Albany called a timeout.
Williams missed the second on purpose, knowing that the possession arrow was in the Blue Devils’ favor, as was their rebounding advantage over Great Danes.
Duke got the ball back on the jump ball call with 19 seconds to go.
On the resultant inbounds, Greenwell got the pass from Johnson and hit nothing but net to put the Blue Devils ahead 53-52 with 14.9 seconds remaining.
“She killed us,” Abrahamson-Henderson said of Greenwell.
“It was all her, all game.”
Tate eventually got the ball and put up a shot that hit the backboard and the rim, but fell right.
Stevens got the rebound and scored one more at the free throw line.
It didn’t quite ice the game for the Blue Devils who had to defend hard and front a last-second three-point attempt from Albany perimeter specialist Erin Coughlin (6 points), who put one up from the right corner.
As the horn sounded and the backboard lit up, the ball sailed past the other side of the basket, hitting the rim and was claimed by Stevens.
The Blue Devils’ escape from the clenched jaws of the Great Danes was complete.
“We didn’t go down without a fight tonight,” Greenwell said.
Up next: Duke (22-10) will play the winner of #5 Mississippi State (26-6) and #12 Tulane (22-10) on Sunday at Noon.
Albany finishes its season at 24-9.