PHILADELPHIA — From the first basket Friday, a three-pointer by senior Seth Curry, Duke left little doubt about its intent to get past its opening game of the NCAA tournament this year after last season’s first-round ouster by 15th-seeded Lehigh.
With Curry supplying a game-high 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting, the Blue Devils ably handled undersize but scrappy Albany, 73-61, to earn a meeting Sunday with either seventh-seeded Creighton (27-7) or 10th-seeded Cincinnati (22-11), who were to face off in Friday afternoon’s second game at the Well Fargo Center.
Duke, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region, never trailed despite allowing the 15th-seeded Great Danes to embark on an 8-0 run late in the first half, the Blue Devils’ only lax segment of the game.
Curry was joined in double figures by fellow senior Mason Plumlee (23 points).
It was a relatively quiet but satisfying return to the NCAA tournament for Ryan Kelly, who missed last year’s postseason with an injured foot. Kelly finished Friday’s game with eight points and six rebounds.
Kelly’s late-season return after re-injuring his foot has bolstered Duke’s prospects. The Blue Devils were 17-1 with him his season but lost four of the 13 games he missed.
Albany isn’t exactly a stranger to the NCAA tournament, making its third appearance since 2006. But this season’s Great Danes squad was a surprising qualifier, having earned its spot with the dubious distinction of being the lowest seed (fourth) to ever win the America East tournament.
Albany left a lot of points unscored early in the form of missed layups, a jumper that arced well over rim and free throws that clanged off rim.
Duke established its balanced attack from the jump, with Curry hit a three-pointer and Mason Plumlee stuffing a dunk for the next score. As the game unfolded, it was clear that the 6-foot-10 Plumlee and 6-11 Kelly were a tall order for the Danes, who shot 37 percent to Duke’s 59 percent.
Curry demanded the full attention of Albany’s back court. Even when well covered, Curry used his quickness to slip past defenders time and again to create shots that weren’t there.
Albany’s fans erupted when senior guard Mike Black hit from long range to cap an 8-0 Albany run that pared what had been a 13-point Duke lead to five. But the half closed with Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon earning three successive trips to the free throw line, where he hit 4 of 6 attempts.
With chance to pull a closer, Albany threw it out of bounds instead. Duke took a 35-26 lead to the break.
The Great Danes’ shooting struggles continued in the second half, and Duke went ahead 50-36 on Curry’s second three-pointer.
Kelly sat after picking up a fourth foul with seven minutes remaining. Albany’s Peter Hooley drilled a three-pointer to make it 62-52, but that was as close as it would get.
Photos: Scenes from Round 1