Greenwell's late 3-pointer sends Duke women's basketball into Round of 32
After being upset on their home court in the second-round by DePaul just a year ago, the Blue Devils saw their season flash right in front of their eyes Friday against Albany.
Guard Rebecca Greenwell hit a three with the season on the brink and fourth-seeded Duke got two key defensive stops late to help survive an upset scare at the hands No.13-seed Albany 54-52 Friday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“In any run in the NCAA tournament…you always have a game like this," Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "You always do. It can come in the first round, second round, third round. It’s a great experience for a team."
With 17 seconds remaining and the Blue Devils down two, the Duke went to Greenwell coming off a screen, and the redshirt freshman had enough space to connect on her sixth three of the contest. The Great Danes had two great chances to win the game as a point-blank layup by Imani Tate fell short followed by a potential game-winning three for Erin Coughlin that clanked harmlessly off the rim as time expired.
“The last play everyone really went with E [Elizabeth Williams], and KJ [Ka'lia Johnson] did a great job of finding me and I just let it go," Greenwell said. "Once I turned and had my feet set, I didn’t really think about it and I think that paid off.”
Coming into the tournament, three-point shooting was one of the biggest keys for the Blue Devils (22-10). Duke connected on 7-of-12 attempts from beyond the arc with Greenwell leading the way with six—four coming in the first half. But Albany (24-9) shut down the Owensboro, Ky., native for much of the second half until the redshirt freshman hit the shot of the season to keep the Blue Devils alive in the postseason. The redshirt freshman finished the contest with 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the floor.
“[Greenwell’s] three-point shot… that was the game right there," Albany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said. "That’s pretty tough to shoot such a high-percentage shot in that pressure situation, so kudos to her. She killed us all by herself.”
The matchup to watch coming into the game between Williams and Albany forward Shereesha Richards did not disappoint. Although Richards had her way in the post early, Williams and the Blue Devils post defense did a solid job holding the junior to just 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting. Williams' nine blocks atoned for her struggles on offense where she finished with just nine points on 2-of-9 shooting.
The Blue Devils began the first half with 10 minutes of some of their best defense of the season. Duke’s defensive intensity—especially the length of Greenwell and the tenacity of Johnson—forced the Great Danes to spend much of the shot clock rotating the ball around the perimeter in hopes of finding an open shot. In addition to two early shot-clock violations, Duke forced the Great Danes into nine turnovers and 31 percent shooting in the first half.
But despite an early 18-10 lead, the Blue Devils let the underdog hang around for much longer than they would have liked. A string of unforced turnovers—in a game in which the team committed 27 total— led to easy run outs for the Great Danes and compromised the strong defense Duke was playing in the half court. Despite their poor shooting from the floor, Albany was able to grab their first lead of the game at 22-20 with 4:25 remaining in the first half and showed that they would not go away easily—trailing just 26-25 at the half.
With an upset possibly brewing, the Blue Devils went back to playing the post-oriented style that has defined their season.
Duke began the second half with an emphasis on running the offense through the All-American Williams. Although the senior could never get going, the extra attention that the Great Danes were forced to pay to Williams allowed freshmen Azura Stevens and Erin Mathias to impact the game. Mathias, in particular, provided a key spark with six consecutive points that helped Duke maintain its lead.
“[Erin] was a source of great inspiration to us," McCallie said. "Erin has been coming off the bench for us and working very hard, but those six points felt more like 12 in terms of their impact in the game. I’m very happy for her and she looked confident.”
But Albany simply would not go away.
With Edwards working in the post, Tate was able to find some room to operate in the mid-range game. The inside-out combination helped pace Albany, and a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down by Margarita Rosario gave Albany its first lead of the second half at 44-43. Just two minutes later, guard Sarah Royals converted a fast-break three-point play that put the Great Danes up two with just 3:56 remaining. As tension filled the Blue Devil contingent at Cameron, Tate's back-to-back jumpers and a free-throw by Royals pushed the Blue Devils to the brink—down 52-48 with just two minutes to go.
“They had more experience in the guard play than us by miles,” McCallie said. “They had two senior guards [Margarita Rosario] and [Sarah Royals] that were money, good solid guards and they kind of played like it at times."
Looking for a hero, the Blue Devils got an easy two in the paint from Williams to cut the Albany lead to 52-50 with a little over a minute to go in the contest.
The Duke defense followed suit with its most important stop of the season and the Blue Devils had possession of the ball with 32 seconds and a chance to tie or win the game.
“We all had faith in each other that we were still going to win the game," Williams said. "Coach drew up some great plays for us and we did a great job executing offensively. Defensively, we had some really big stops and they were consecutive stops."
Duke worked the ball into Williams once again who made a move was fouled with just 22 seconds remaining in the contest. At the foul line for two of the biggest free-throws of her career, Williams’ missed the first before appearing to intentionally miss the second. But with the ball loose, the center was able to tie up possession and keep the ball with the Blue Devils before Greenwell delivered the go-ahead trey.
With the victory, Duke advances to the Round of 32 where it will face No. 5 Mississippi State Tulane Sunday.