Coming into the America East tournament, the Albany Great Danes have been tough to knock off on their home floor. As a matter of fact, they have been untouchable inside SEFCU Arena in Albany, NY.
In front of their home crowd this season, the Great Danes were a perfect 14-0. They were looking to continue that trend in the post-season, as they looked to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.
Albany was matched up against the Hartford Hawks in the quarter-finals, and on paper, looked to be the clear favourite. Hartford came in with a 4-12 conference record, and had only won 2 of their previous 11 games overall. Albany entered the game as 18.5-point favourites, and looked to roll to the easy win.
In the post-season, anything can happen. Wednesday night was no different.
Hartford wasn’t intimidated by playing the Great Danes, and came out swinging. Free throws down the stretch pushed Hartford to the 68-59 upset win over Albany, sending shock waves across the conference landscape.
Albany swept the regular season series against the Hawks by an average of 21 points, and closed out the regular season with a 75-59 win over Hartford. They took an early 7-5 lead on a three point jumper from Peter Hooley, but Hartford stuck around.
That would be the last time that Albany led on the night.
Pancake Thomas responded with a three of his own for Hartford to give the Hawks an 8-7 advantage, and they would stretch their lead to 6 shortly thereafter.
As the first half wore on, Hartford would continue to stretch their lead. Jason Dunne hit a layup with 1:39 to play in the half to give the Hawks a 19-point lead.
They would take a 17-point lead into the locker room, at 38-21.
George Blagojevic would push the Hawks’ lead back to 19 with a layup to open the second half, and the visitors picked up right where they left off. Albany would do everything they could to cut into the deficit, but weren’t able to muster up a sustained comeback effort.
Another three pointer from Hooley cut the deficit down to 10 with over 17 minutes left on the clock, but Hartford responded to push the lead back up to 18 just four minutes later.
The Great Danes would make another attempt at a comeback, as Mike Rowley hit a pair of free throws with 8:10 to play to bring Albany to within 8 points. Hartford responded, and pushed the lead back to double digits.
Down the stretch, Albany kept trying to cut into the lead, but Hartford always had an answer for the Great Danes.
J.R. Lynch hit a three in the closing minutes to push their lead back up to 8, and the Hawks used strong free throw shooting to hold off the Great Danes before the final buzzer went off.
Albany got a late three from David Nichols, but it was too little, too late. Hartford is off to the semi-finals of the America East tournament with a 68-59 victory over Albany.
A balanced scoring attack led the Hawks to the victory, and it was a big game from their star senior guard that led the way. Pancake Thomas scored a game-high 16 points on the night to go along with 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks. Freshman George Blagojevic chipped in with 13 points and 8 rebounds.
Jalen Ross added 13 points of his own in the win.
Albany’s stars were held in check for most of the game. Peter Hooley finished the night with 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting, all of which were from three point range. Ray Sanders scored a team-high 13 points in the loss.
With the win, the Hartford Hawks live to fight another day in the post-season. They were the only team to pull off an upset in the quarter-finals of the America East tournament, meaning they will need to pull off two more upsets to get into the NCAA Tournament. Hartford will go on the road to take on the Stony Brook Seawolves on Monday, March 7th.
Albany will have to wait for their fate after the loss. Many projected an Albany – Stony Brook finale, but Hartford had other plans. The Great Danes will find their name in another post-season bracket, and time will tell which one that will be.