BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) -- Depth and balance were two of Vermont's most consistent strengths this season -- until the America East championship game Saturday against Albany.
The second-second Catamounts fell to fourth-seeded Albany, 53-49, to fumble a sixth trip to the NCAA tournament in the last 11 years. Vermont was undone by a number of missteps, none more crucial than its backup being outscored 27-9 by the Great Dane's reserves.
"Our bench was terrible, we didn't get anything out of them," Vermont coach John Becker said. "They looked nervous and just overwhelmed a little bit."
While Vermont sputtered, the Great Danes rolled. They used 11 points from tournament most outstanding player Mike Black to take a 28-20 halftime lead, but the remaining 17 points came off the bench. The key was Luke Devlin, a former starter, who finished with 12 points on 6-for-6 shooting.
"I thought the MVP today was our bench," Albany coach Will Brown said. "It was outstanding, particularly in the first half when we had some guys pick up two fouls. It was a great, great team effort."
Albany guard Jacob Iati found his shooting touch against Vermont late in the 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 into the NCAA field for the first time since 2007.
"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," 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. But it is Iati, who followed his older brother, John, to Albany, who will be in the spotlight as the team prepares for the NCAA tournament.
"I was just looking for an opportunity because I don't care that much about scoring," said Iati, who averaged 12.2 points this season. "But if I get an open shot, I'm going to take it. They were both good looks. I'm just happy they went in."
Vermont jumped to a 10-0 lead before Albany's defense limited the Cats to four baskets the rest of the half. By the break, the Great Danes had grabbed a 28-20 lead. Albany's pressure on the ball forced 11 Vermont turnovers that led to 13 points.
The Great Danes finished with 18 points on Catamount giveaways. That helped Albany cover up a 20-2 deficit in second-chance points that was tied to Vermont's 37-21 rebounding edge (16-3 at the offensive end).
"We were aggressive, I thought we were physical," Brown said. "I told our guys the only way we wouldn't win this game is if we had turnover issues today. We had nine turnovers. Mission accomplished."
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