On a day when the offense was unable to produce at its normally high rate, the Vermont Catamounts found the will to win with a 56-53 win over Albany in the America East title game.
This was a sloppy shooting game from the onset, but some of blame has to be put on the conference commissioner’s office. The America East has a convoluted tournament that includes a FIVE day break between the semifinals and the title game, making it almost impossible to keep the continuity of solid play from previous rounds.
It is almost like multiple one round tournaments masqueraded by the name of a conference tournament. In other words, winning under this format is even more impressive for the top seeded Catamounts.
Vermont, undefeated in conference play during the regular season, won this game despite shooting a paltry 16-48 (33.3%) from the field and getting outrebounded on the day. The ability to excel through all that adversity comes from an experienced group that committed only five total turnovers while blocking a conference title game nine shots on the day.
Albany, huge underdogs to everyone, came out in the opening half and made a concerted effort to just hang around for the first 20 minutes of action. They did so and more as David Nichols hit a jumper to tie that game at 27-27 at the half.
Confident from a great first half game plan, the Danes took advantage of poor Catamount shooting and built a 36-29 lead in little over 3:30 of action. From then on, it was a game of cat and mouse with Anthony Lamb scoring to pull within two only for Albany to go on a 9-2 run and lead again at 47-38 with only 8:26 left in the game.
As championship teams tend to do, Vermont stayed calm despite an almost double-digit deficit and went to work. A free throw here, a Kurt Steidl three pointer there, and great defensive rebounding put Vermont back in the game at 48-48 with under five minutes left in the game.
After a rough three minutes of action that saw both teams only score a pair of points, Anthony Lamb came through for Vermont with a pair of free throws to take a 52-50 lead with :73 seconds left in the game. Albany quickly responded to tie the game at 52-52.
With the game on the line and the Catamounts needing a big play, Payton Henson proved worthy of every accolade thrown his way with a layup while being fouled to take the steam out of Albany’s upset bid. A free throw later, the Catamounts were the America East champions with a 56-53 win over Albany.
For Vermont, this is the seventh NCAA Tournament bid in school history. They will take a Division 1 high 21 game winning streak into the Big Dance where they are projected as a 13-seed versus West Virginia in the South Region.
Congrats to Vermont on running the table and winning the America East title.