Courtesy Vermont Sports Information
BURLINGTON – Vermont kept its magical season alive on Saturday by winning the 2017 America East Championship for the sixth time in program history. The top-seeded Catamounts topped third-seeded Albany 56-53 to win the crown. UVM earned America East’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Vermont improves to 29-5 on the season and takes the nation’s longest active winning streak into the Big Dance. UVM’s sixth conference championship ties Boston University for the second-most in America East history. Albany closes the books on a 21-13 season after suffering its first loss in a title game.
The All-Championship Team was highlighted by three Catamounts – Anthony Lamb, Payton Henson, and Dre Wills. Lamb was named as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and becomes the first freshman to receive the honor.
The title bout was a defensive battle as Vermont shot 33.3% (16-for-48) from the floor and Albany made 39.6% (21-of-53) of its attempts on the day. Both defenses made their presence felt as the two rivals combined for 15 blocks (Vermont 9, Albany 6).
Henson had a big day with a game-high 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting and made 6-of-7 on his trips to the free throw line. The redshirt junior grabbed four rebounds and swatted away a pair of shots. Lamb recorded his second double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 boards. The freshman was 7-of-8 at the charity stripe and posted three blocks. Trae Bell-Haynes had a solid overall game with eight points, five rebounds, and distributed four assists.
Albany added two players the All-Championship Team – sophomore guards David Nichols and Joe Cremo. Nichols scored 14 points with four rebounds and three assists to lead the Great Danes. Devonte Campbell tallied eight points and four rebounds while Cremo netted seven points and six boards.
The Catamounts hit two straight three-pointers from Lamb and Henson on their way to a 9-4 run to start the game. For the remainder of the period, the Cats and Great Danes traded baskets and went into the locker room tied at 27-27.
The Great Danes opened the second half on a 7-2 run and built a 36-29 advantage. Over the next five minutes, UVM cut the deficit down to two points on two separate occasions but could not net the tying bucket. Albany managed to stretch its lead to 47-38 after Nichols caught a long rebound and banked in a fast break layup on the offensive end of the floor as Vermont faced its largest deficit of the conference tournament.
The green and gold responded with a 10-1 run and capped it off with a corner three-pointer by Kurt Steidl in front of UVM’s bench at the 4:37 mark.
As the clock ticked down to the final minute and the score deadlocked at 52-52, the Cats broke the tie with an and-one opportunity from Henson. Bell-Haynes drove to the baseline and dished a one-handed pass to Henson, who withstood the contact and laid a shot off the window, then sank the ensuing free throw.
After each team swapped free throws, David Nichols was sent to the line after getting fouled on a three-point attempt with less than a second left on the clock. The sophomore missed the first attempt, made the second one, and his desperation miss on the third attempt was tipped away by Henson to send the Cats into the NCAA Tournament.
Vermont will await the NCAA Selection Show on Sunday (March 12) to find out its opponent and bracket region. The show will be televised on CBS and streamed on NCAA.com at 5:30 p.m. Visit UVMathletics.com for game and ticket information.