BURLINGTON, Vt. – Albany guard Jacob Iati found his shooting touch against Vermont late in the America East Conference championship game to carry the Great Danes into the NCAA tournament.
In two regular-season losses to the Catamounts, the senior was a combined 1-for-17 shooting and 0 for 11 from 3-point range. That changed Saturday when Iati hit two 3-pointers in the closing minutes to lift the Great Danes to a 53-49 victory and into the NCAA field for the first time since 2007.
Albany had earned its way to the championship with a 50-49 quarterfinal win over Maine and a 61-59 semifinal win over Stony Brook last weekend.
“Finally, after what felt like 100 attempts, we were able to get Jacob free for a couple of shots,” Albany Coach Will Brown said. “He’s a gutsy performer and he knocked them down.”
Iati took only two shots all game. The first was a 3-pointer from the right wing that gave fourth-seeded Albany a 46-45 lead with 2:36 left. After a Vermont turnover, Iati nailed another long shot that provided the Great Danes enough cushion to deny No. 2 seed Vermont its sixth NCAA berth in 11 years.
“We did a great job on him all night but for whatever reason we walked away from him twice,” Vermont coach John Becker said. “In championship games, somebody makes plays and for them Iati made the two plays they needed.”
Albany (24-10) suffered its most lopsided defeat of the season and was held to its two lowest offensive efforts in 70-45 and 50-43 losses to Vermont (21-11) in the regular season. But in front of a sellout crowd of 3,245 at Patrick Gym, the Great Danes snapped an eight-game losing streak to Vermont and ran their record to 3-0 against the Catamounts in America East title games. Two of those victories have come in Burlington.
Albany became the first team seeded lower than third to win the title and set a school season record for victories. The Great Danes won three conference tournament games by a total of seven points and beat the top two seeds.
“We beat a very good basketball team in a hostile environment,” Brown said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Vermont. They’ve been a model of consistency in this league for several years. I told our guys all week that there is no pressure on us. All the pressure is on Vermont. They’re supposed to win, especially in their building.”
Senior guard Mike Black, the tournament’s most outstanding player, led Albany with 14 points.