Royals and Great Danes nearly pull the upset. Fall to Duke 54-52 in NCAA's
DURHAM, N.C.: It will take a little while for the sting to wear off after being so close to winning their first ever NCAA Tournament game, but when it does, the Albany Great Danes and that hard working guard from Torrington, Connecticut will understand they pushed another major program to the brink.
I speak of Sarah Royals, the former Torrington High School standout, who became the leader of a team that came within a three-point shot that glanced over the back rim of upsetting the No. 4 seed Duke Blue Devils on their home court by a 54-52 final.
Royals will leave the Great Danes program as the programs all-time leading assist leader, while adding over 1,000 points and enough grit and determination to keep the Danes program on solid footing long after she moves on to do something else brilliant with her life.
You see, Royals hates to lose and since she arrived in Upstate New York as an eager freshman, the Albany women’s basketball program has made four straight trips to the ultimate dance after never making it before she got there.
On Friday at noon, at one of the most famous arenas in the basketball world, Cameron Indoor Stadium, Royals and her bold Great Danes showed the world they belonged on the same court as the Blue Devils, who they forced into a season high 27 turnovers.
With a relentless defense that led to an astounding 16 steals, Albany refused to back down even after going down 13-6 midway through the first half.
It was a Royals steal and the following two free throws that got her team back into offensive gear, and by the half, the home standing and favorited Blue Devils knew they were in a ball game, up just one at 26-25 at the break.
Duke could not find a way to put Albany away at numerous parts of the second half and, after a Royals steal that led to a fast break basket and the ensuing free throw, the Great Danes regained the lead at 47-45 with 3:55 left.
Sophomore Tate Amani was outstanding for Albany, leading them with 17 points and eight steals and will be one of the Danes leaders when she steps back on the court next year.
It was consecutive jumper by Amani that put the visitors ahead 51-48 and when Royals converted one of two free throws with 2:06 to play, Albany had a 52-48 lead but would not score again.
Elizabeth Williams would make a jumper in the lane to cut the lead to two at 52-50 with the final dagger coming off the fingertips of Rebecca Greenwell (game-high 20 points), who drained her sixth three-pointer of the game from the right side to put her team up 53-52.
Junior Shereesha Richards, the focal point of the Duke defense, struggled with double and sometimes triple teams, but still managed to score 12 points, while pulling down five rebounds.
Albany had a good look at a last minute, three-point try by Eric Coughlin that was a little long, leaving a game Danes team a little short.
The former Raider finished with six points, four assists and three steals and a boat load of memories to last her and Raider fans a lifetime.