PHILADELPHIA -- There was a chance, a slim window of opportunity for 15th-seeded America East Tournament champion Albany to put second-seeded Duke at the edge of an upset. Two free throws by 5-10 Jacob Iati had just cut a 16-point Duke lead to eight with 4:40 left, when suddenly, there was a loose ball waiting to be taken the other way by the Great Danes.
But with Iati scrambling desperately on the floor to reach the ball, it bounced right into the hands of Blue Devils star Seth Curry, who dribbled in for an uncontested layup. That was the backbreaking play in Albany's 73-61 Midwest Regional second-round loss to Duke Friday at Wells Fargo Center.
"The loose ball was the biggest play of the game,'' Iati said. "I thought I was going to get it, and right before I did, Plumlee tipped it a little bit. It ricocheted off me right to Curry.''
For a fleeting second, Danes coach Will Brown had visions of his scrappy bunch doing the near impossible.
"Our guy goes to pick it up and slips on a wet spot,'' Brown said of Iati. "I thought we had numbers. Instead of us having the ball and a chance to cut it to five maybe, they get a layup and push it to 10.''
The roar from the Duke crowd when Curry laid the ball in with 4:01 left told Brown something.
"Did you hear the Duke crowd erupt?'' he asked. "They were worried . . . I'm very proud of my guys. We challenged Duke; we made them work; we made Duke beat us.''
That sentiment was seconded by Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski, who praised Brown for switching up and having physical forward Sam Rowley bring the ball upcourt at times.
"We had to beat a tough, experienced, winning, prepared team, which is really good,'' Krzyzewski said. "We beat a team playing really well.''
Iati, a graduate student Brown said will be working for J.P. Morgan in his next life, was inspiring with 15 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals, and Peter Hooley came off the bench to score 13, grab eight rebounds and hand out five assists. The Danes got 10 points apiece from Mike Black and Rowley and made 9 of 15 three-pointers.
But they had no defense for Curry, who scored 26, shooting 10-for-14, or Plumlee, who had 23 points, shooting 9-for-11 and grabbing eight rebounds. When he wasn't dunking, Plumlee soared to hit a couple of indefensible sky hooks.
Brown said he chose to play man-to-man against Plumlee and guard the three-point line.
"If they're going to beat us, they're going to beat us with twos instead of threes,'' Brown said. "Plumlee did the best Kareem Abdul-Jabbar imitation I've seen in a long time.''
Iati was impressed by how Duke took Albany's best shot.
"For us, it's like the game of a lifetime,'' he said. "For them, it's just another day in the park.''