Danes Let One Slip Away on National Stage
ALBANY, N.Y. — We’ve seen this before. The Great Danes surrendered late game leads to the Catamounts in recent years and when these teams square off you just know that it’s never over.
This one might have hurt a little more. Maybe it was because the Danes were up by almost 20 points at one point. Maybe it’s because the Danes squandered two second half double digit leads. Or maybe because all of this happened while the game was being broadcasted nationally on ESPN U.
The Vermont Catamounts defeated the UAlbany Great Danes 72-67 in front of an electric packed house of 3,602 at SEFCU Arena on Thursday night.
UAlbany led by 17 points in the first half and had two separate double digit leads in the second half, but could not survive the Vermont surge late in the game. The Great Dane offense grew stagnant in the last 2:38 and the Catamounts closed out the contest on a 6-0 run to give them their 31st conference win in a row and have now beat UAlbany in their last five meetings.
“I thought Albany played really well,” said Vermont Head Coach John Becker. “They were dominant most of the game and the better team for most of the game. I’ll have to take a look at the tape to see how we actually won this game to be honest with you.”
“I honestly don’t know how we won that game,” said Vermont senior forward Drew Urquhart after the game. Urquhard scored 12 of his 19 points in the second half as his team raced to the finish line strong. “The last 10 minutes were a blur and once you’re in that competitive mindset it’s just like blackout mode and do whatever you can to get that W.”
This is not uncharted territory for the Catamounts, who came back on the Danes late in the second half twice last year, the most memorable being the America East Championship game last March. This team is rolling and the only America East team to go toe to toe with them in the last two years have been the Great Danes. They just haven’t been able to close them out.
“We’ve proven that we can take them down to the wire, but we’ve not gotten the job done,” said UAlbany Head Coach Will Brown.
The Danes were feeling themselves in the first half. They started the game by making their first four buckets in a row. Travis Charles kicked off the action and his mid-range jumper was hitting early. Charles had eight of his 12 points in the first seven minutes and the Danes raced out to a 17-11 lead. Before you knew it they pushed that to 25-11 in the midst of a 10-0 run and ultimately went on a 19-2 run, extending their lead to 30-13 with just over seven minutes to play in the first half. The building was buzzing and the Danes looked as if they were going to route the Catamounts on ESPN U in a showcase game for the rest of the nation to see.
That was the apex of the game for the Danes. Vermont chipped into the lead and would only trail UAlbany by nine heading into the break. Catamount senior guard Trae Bell-Haynes made a layup with just three seconds to go in the first half to make the game 35-26. The fact that that basket cut the lead to single digits gave Vermont poise during intermission.
“That’s huge for your confidence to be able to score. Nine is always better than 11,” said Bell-Haynes, who finished with 20 points.
It only took the Catamounts four minutes to tie the game up at 41 in the second half. They came out of the locker room and played with a lot more intensity that they had on display in the first half.
“The first half we were pretty soft and we kind of let them go down and do what they wanted,” said Bell-Haynes. “In the second half we were able to slow them down and take away some key shots.”
The Catamounts smothered the Danes in the last 20 minutes and limited them to shooting 38-percent from the floor, compared to 52-percent in the first half. The Danes did however manage to go on a couple runs in the second half, but Vermont silenced the crowd and went on their own runs response like clockwork. They were able to knife their way to the glass for a few easy layups down the stretch.
It also didn’t help that they got to the charity stripe twice as many times as the Danes and went a perfect 20-for-20 from the line, which ultimately was the deciding factor.
“When you give them layups and 20 points from the free-throw line they’re a tough team to beat,” said Cremo. “They are already tough to beat and you can’t do that stuff against them.”
Cremo did have a shot attempt to tie the game with 13 seconds left, but the ball rimmed out and was a microcosm of this Vermont UAlbany series in the past couple of years.
“It’s a shot that I work on all the time. It just didn’t drop,” said Cremo.
The Danes had their chances and almost took down a goliath that haven’t lost a regular season conference game since February 8th 2016. Not only that, but the game was nationally televised and it showed the rest of the country that the America East Conference is not to be taken lightly.
“It was a physical America East old school slugfest,” said Becker.
“Hats off to Vermont. They finished the game strong,” said Brown. “We just have to keep working at getting better, but I’m proud of my guy’s effort.”
The Danes want another shot at Vermont, but have a long road ahead if they want a chance to do so. Right now UAlbany is sitting in fourth place in the division with a 6-5 conference record with five games remaining in the regular season. This Sunday they travel out to Hartford and will try to avenge a 72-64 loss by the Hawks from earlier this season.
If the Danes run the table, they have a chance at getting the number two seed in the America East Conference Tournament and a possible rematch with a Catamount team that they desperately want to beat.
“I think they [Vermont] will go 16-0 in league play,” said Brown. “Hopefully we get another crack at them.”