Catamounts Scurry Away with America East Title
Great Danes fall short of NCAA Tournament berth in a thriller vs. Vermont.
BURLINGTON, VT — Will Brown is undefeated in title games no more.
The University at Albany men’s basketball team suffered a 56-53 loss to Vermont in the America East Championship game Saturday in front of a raucous, sold-out crowd at Patrick Gymnasium.
The Great Danes held a nine point lead with 8:47 left in the game, but Vermont responded with a 14-3 run to take the lead back with 1:13 to go. Payton Henson, an unheralded member of the team, led the Catamounts with 17 points—a true testament to the depth of their squad.
The Great Danes, the No. 3 seed coming into the game, fought until the very end. A few late turnovers and a Joe Cremo offensive foul with 13 seconds left tipped the game in Vermont’s favor.
“I think the pressure got to us in the last two minutes of the game,” UAlbany head coach Will Brown said after the game.
The sold-out crowd clearly made it difficult for the Danes down the stretch. The gym grew increasingly louder as the game wore on. The crowd erupted on Henson’s and-one that gave Vermont a 55-52 lead with just over 30 seconds left; the bucket proved to be the difference in the game.
“This is why we want this game at Patrick Gym. The home court paid dividends today,” Vermont head coach John Becker said.
In 2013, UAlbany and Vermont met in Burlington for the America East title game. Except this time, UAlbany didn’t come out on top.
“It was another classic game in this rivalry and we were fortunate enough to come out on top,” Becker said.
UAlbany, led by a trio of sophomores in Joe Cremo, David Nichols, and Devonte Campbell, hopes to be back in this position next season. But it will be a long time until they will be given that chance.
“It might take a little bit to let this one settle in,” Cremo said. He took six shots, finishing with seven on the afternoon. His backcourt partner and roommate, Nichols, took a few more shots than Cremo—19 more to be exact.
Nichols did have a look to tie the game, but airmailed a 3-pointer with nine seconds left.
“I think I might have done a little too much and I think I took too many shots,” an emotional Nichols said after the game. “I don’t think I did my job today.”
Nichols went 6-for-25 from the floor and missed eight 3-point attempts. Nichols tried to shoulder the blame in the postgame press conference, but Brown wouldn’t allow it.
“Without David, we wouldn’t have been here today to play in this game,” Brown said.
It’s a tough loss for Brown and his players to process. But once the dust settles, UAlbany will be able to take away a lot from the game.
The Danes held Vermont to 33 percent from the field and the Catamounts’ lowest scoring total of the season. They also outrebounded Vermont and slowed down the tempo, making Vermont play the game at UAlbany’s pace. The UAlbany defense repeatedly gave the Catamounts fits, forcing nine turnovers.
“We really couldn’t get anything going today,” Becker said. “You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Albany with their defense and their toughness.”
In order for UAlbany to win, experts and analysts prior to the game said Cremo and Nichols needed to have huge games for the Danes to have a fighting chance. Neither man did. It was Travis Charles who shined for the Danes. The redshirt sophomore forward shot 6-of-7 from the field and sank four free throws to finish with 16 points and got the most out of the 23 minutes he spent on the court.
Charles’ turnaround jumper was as good as automatic. And his old fashioned three-point play with just under 10 minutes left gave the Danes a 44-38 lead and momentum. A little over one hundred UAlbany fans made the trip, but it certainly didn’t feel like it, especially after letting the Danes hear it after the Charles basket.
“We heard our fans. We felt their presence and I think that really helped our guys throughout the game,” Brown said.
UAlbany was 8:47 seconds away from pulling an upset that would send them back to the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in six years. Vermont prevailed and extended its nation’s longest winning streak to 21 games.
“This is what you play for,” Brown said. “We came here to win and we thought we could win.”
“Anything less than a championship will be looked at as underachieving,” Campbell added.
The loss will sting for a while, as Brown and his players noted. It will be a long summer. But as the fans of UAlbany have learned during Brown’s tenure, this team always bounces back. Two-time America East champions Mike Rowley and Dallas Ennema played their final game on Saturday, but Cremo, Nichols, and Campbell will have two more cracks at it. Now that the sophomore trio knows this feeling, the UAlbany community should be hopeful because it knows these special players will put in the work over the offseason to ensure they never experience this defeat again while donning the purple and gold.
*note: UAlbany has accepted an invitation to play in the CollegeBasketballInsider.com Tournament. UAlbany will host Saint Peter’s on Thursday, March 16 at 7:00 pm.