ORONO — The University of Albany women’s basketball team couldn’t have been much hotter in the first half of the America East championship game on Friday. Although the Great Danes cooled off, the University of Maine never warmed up, and Albany took a 56-47 win to earn the conference title in front of 1,329 loud fans in a sold-out Memorial Gym.

“We knew it was going to be a really loud environment, but we just had to stay together,” said Albany guard Kayla Cooper, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after scoring eight points and grabbing 12 rebounds in the win.

Albany shot 52 percent in the first half (13 for 25), including 7 for 10 from beyond the 3-point arc. While the Great Danes sputtered offensively at times in the second half, the Black Bears never made up enough ground.

The win gave Albany (23-9) its seventh conference title and first since 2017, when the Great Danes won the last of six consecutive America East crowns. Albany will learn Sunday night where it plays in the NCAA tournament after earning the conference’s automatic bid.

The loss snapped Maine’s 14-game win streak. As the regular-season conference champions, the Black Bears (20-11) will receive an invitation to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.

When the Great Danes practiced in an empty Memorial Gym on Thursday, they cranked loud music to get a feel for how loud it would be come game time (“Pop, and whatever these guys like,” said Albany Coach Colleen Mullen). Albany did a better job handling Maine’s defensive pressure than it did in the two regular season losses to the Black Bears, and with that the Great Danes were able to slow the game down and wait for a good shot on most possessions. Albany never trailed in the game, and led 20-12 after the first quarter.


“It was just so important for us to come out with confidence. We knew the full-court pressure was something that had really had a lot of effect on us,” Mullen said. “Just being able to control the tempo and score out of it, it gave us a lot of confidence.”

Maine Coach Amy Vachon said the first quarter was significant.

“For them to score 20 points, that’s a lot of points for us to give up. We wanted to make them uncomfortable and I just don’t think we did enough of that in that first quarter,” Vachon said. “Look, this is not an easy place to play in, and they came out on fire. They hit the shots that were open.”

Down 38-32 entering the fourth quarter, Maine cut Albany’s lead to five points, 45-40, when Olivia Rockwood made a steal on an inbounds pass and passed to Anne Simon for a layup with 2:32 to play. Albany’s Ellen Hahne made a 3-pointer with 1:23 left to push the Great Danes lead back to eight points, 49-41.

Although Albany went a 10-minute stretch with just one field goal in the second half, Maine couldn’t take advantage. For the game, Maine shot just 33.9 percent (18 for 53) from the floor. Maine’s top two players – Simon, the America East Player of the Year, and all-conference selection Maeve Carroll – shot a combined 9 for 28.

“We just had a bad shooting night. I didn’t make layups that I normally do. We didn’t hit shots from the outside we normally do,” Carroll said.

The Great Danes led 34-24 at halftime, sparked by the hot shooting of Morgan Haney, who was 6 for 9 from the field in the half, including 4 for 4 on 3-point attempts. She scored 16 of her game and career-high 20 points before halftime. Albany also dominated the boards in the first half, grabbing 17 rebounds to Maine’s eight, and finished with a 34-27 advantage on the glass.

“I think I was just completely focused going into this game. There was nothing that I was going to let hold me back,” Haney said.

Simon led the Black Bears with 15 points, while Caroline Bornemann added 13.

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