ALBANY, N.Y. — Tiana-Jo Carter didn’t score a point in the America East Conference women’s basketball championship game Friday.

But the sophomore center had one of Albany’s biggest defensive plays in a 59-58 victory over Maine at SEFCU Arena.

Carter, a Lake Region High graduate who stands 6-foot-2, stood her ground when Black Bears point guard Sigi Koizar darted through the lane for what could have been a tying basket with 4:09 remaining.

Carter snuffed out the attempt, deflecting the ball back off of Koizar and out of bounds. It was her 37th block of the season.

“We were struggling a little on keeping her out of the paint,” said Carter, limited to 14 minutes because of foul trouble. “I couldn’t get a foul but I had one to give so I said, ‘you know what, if she comes in I’m going to try not to foul and make sure she doesn’t get another point.'”

The victory put Carter into the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year, this time at the expense of her home-state university.

“It’s bittersweet. Maine’s where I’m from,” said Carter, a Naples native with a large cheering contingent. “But it’s always good to get a win, especially for my hometown.”

MAINE HELD Albany star Shereesha Richards to eight points in a 65-53 victory in Bangor on Feb. 14, using a matchup zone to limit her to eight shots. On Friday, the Black Bears decided to play man-to-man, and Richards broke loose for 31 points on 11-of-18 shooting.

The decision, Coach Richard Barron said, was made by the players, including eight seniors.

“It’s their championship. They’re the ones who got here,” Barron said. “I trust them and feel like they’ve got good instincts. What they believe in has a lot to do with how confident they are going out there and actually executing it.”

Great Danes Coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said she anticipated Maine would go man-to-man, as it had last weekend in the opening two games of tournament play.

“They’re going to beat up (Richards), and they did,” Abrahamson-Henderson reasoned. “So we really worked on a lot of misdirection plays, a lot of movement plays, a lot of reversals, a lot of multi-screens to get Shereesha open.”

LIZ WOOD has always been the consummate team player. And the Maine senior forward delivered another big assist in the postgame news conference.

Center Mikaela Gustafsson, who scored 11 points, started to break down when asked to comment on her play, which included a team-high 20 minutes of first-half action.

“I think I could have done a better job in the second half,” she said, her voice quavering.

“I think all of us could,” Wood interjected. “(Gustafsson) plays hard and she’s really stepped up for us this year, so I’m proud of her.”