BURLINGTON, Vt. – The UAlbany men’s basketball team played in a battle down to the wire with Vermont for the America East title on Saturday, falling just short 56-53 in Burlington.
UAlbany (21-13) was tied at the half and fought for a nine-point advantage with 8:45 left in the game, pushing hard against the league’s regular season champion. Despite some strong defensive plays by UAlbany, Vermont ended the game on an 18-6 run, including a go-ahead three-point play with 39 seconds left to get the lead the rest of the way.
“I want to congratulate Vermont for a tremendous season,” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown. “I am very proud of my basketball team, our goal was to win, there no happy to be here mentality. We did not waver in our preparation, we knew it was going to be a difficult environment to play in, and my guys made me proud today, they battled.”
David Nichols and Joe Cremo were placed on the America East All-Tournament Team for their efforts. In addition, Mike Rowley was honored with the America East Elite 17 Award for having the highest GPA among those with junior standing or higher in the conference title game.
As a team, UAlbany outrebounded Vermont 36-32 and held the Catamounts to 33.3% shooting. UAlbany was playing in its sixth America East title game, including fourth in the last five years.
Travis Charles led UAlbany in scoring with 16 points off 6-for-7 shooting, adding four rebounds. Nichols finished with 14 points, four boards and three assists while Cremo had seven points, six boards and four assists.
For Vermont, Payton Henson led all players with 17 points, adding four rebounds and two blocks. Anthony Lamb got a double-double off 12 points and 10 rebounds while Trey Bell-Haynes finished with eight points, five boards and four assists.
Vermont got early looks from beyond the arc, hitting threes on two second chance possessions for an early six-point lead. UAlbany kept to its early gameplan and went for the paint, using a couple of buckets to pull within three at 7-4 at the first media.
After Vermont hit a lay up, UAlbany tied it up with attacking the basket, with Devonte Campbell hitting a transition lay up and one, then Nichols scoring a lay up through a screen to make it 9-9. Vermont got back up by four, then UAlbany countered back with a 7-1 run, capped by a Nichols three on a kick out, to give the Great Danes a 17-15 lead.
Vermont went on a 7-0 run in the next couple of minutes to build back its lead. UAlbany clamped down on defense and got back to within one off a Charles floater and a Campbell lay up to pull within one.
As Vermont got the lead back up to four, Charles hit a jumper, then Nichols added one in the final minute. UAlbany’s defense held against a final Vermont possession in the first to take a tie score into the locker room.
Into the second half, Greig Stire got UAlbany going with a lay up, then blocking a mid-range Vermont shot, then other underneath the basket. Campbell added another on the next Vermont possession, then hit a lay up in traffic to give UAlbany a 31-27 advantage two minutes into the 2nd.
UAlbany built its lead to seven after a rebound and kickout to a wide-open Cremo, pushing the score to 36-29 with 16:15 left. UAlbany countered a couple Vermont baskets and kept its lead at six minutes later.
At 40-38, UAlbany held Vermont without points for over three minutes with strong play underneath the basket. Charles added five points in a row, including a lay up and score in transition, then Nichols grabbed a rebound, flew down the court and hit the lay up to completed a 7-0 run and give UAlbany a 47-38 advantage with 8:45 remaining.
UAlbany held the lead for the next couple of minutes, with a couple of Kurt Steidl three-pointers helping to tie it up with 4:37 to play. After a timeout, Charles hit another jumper to push the Great Danes back up 50-48 with 4:08 left.
Each side kept making defensive stands as the teams went back and forth, with two late Cremo free throws tying the game up again at 52-2 with 51 seconds left. Henson went down the baseline and hit his lay up and one for a 55-52 home team lead with 39 seconds left.
UAlbany got two chances to tie, with a charge and a missed three keeping Vermont’s lead at three. After a Bell-Haynes free throws, Nichols got late free throws in the final seconds, but it was not enough. Vermont got the win 56-53.
Vermont advances to the NCAA Tournament with the America East automatic qualifying berth.