Vermont was pegged to win the America East Tournament when they ended the conference season undefeated. They made their mark on history not just in Vermont basketball history, but they’re making waves in all of Division-1 ball. They currently have the longest winning streak in the country right now by going 19-0 in conference play, and 21-0 in their last 21 games.
“This was our goal going into the entire season, and for it to finally be accomplished is an incredible feeling,” said Payton Henson about their title.
As with any rivalry game, the battle between Vermont and Albany was nothing short of tense. Walking in to Patrick Gymnasium before the game, chants of “U-V-M!” could be heard echoing in the halls. The last time Albany and Vermont battled in a Championship game, Albany took home the title. Catamount fans wanted to let everyone know whose house it was.
As for the actual game, Vermont wasn’t going to let Albany win and Albany sure wasn’t going to let Vermont try to steamroll the conference. The 27-point tie at the half proved that it was going to be an uphill battle for the rest of the game.
Shots weren’t falling quite how Vermont wanted them to in the first half. They hit only nine of their 25 shots, but due to their three treys, the Catamounts were able to keep up with Albany. That bad luck carried over into the second half as well, when Albany was able to take the lead by nine.
It was a three ball from senior Kurt Steidl at 7:49 that brought them back to reality. With four foul shots, one jumper and another three by Steidl, the Catamounts were one point away from tying the game. A foul by Mike Rowley of Albany sent Anthony Lamb to the line to finally break even.
Joe Cremo had tied the game back at 52 for the sixth tie of the game with 51 seconds left in the game. Payton Henson had different ideas about that. He managed a layup with a foul to give them the three point lead they needed, and Trae Bell-Haynes’s final free throw is what sealed the deal for a Catamount victory.
“We just stuck with it. Didn’t get down... One thing we said going into the games, when things are bad they’re never as bad as we think, and when things are good they aren’t as good as we think,” said Henson.
Coach John Becker emphasizes that defense and rebounds are the key to winning games, and Dre Wills was the best defensive player on the court. Though stats don’t show much, just four rebounds, two assists and two blocks, his overall presence is what made the difference.
“I can’t say enough about Dre Wills. He’s the spirit of this team for sure. The fight that he has is just absolutely incredible. He’s one of the most, if not the most competitive person on this team,” said Anthony Lamb about teammate Dre Wills.
The America East All-Playoff team consisted of Joe Cremo and David Nichols of Albany, and Dre Wills, Payton Henson and Anthony Lamb of Vermont. Lamb also took home the Player of the Game award, and was the first freshman to ever do so.
The Catamounts will figure out where they are seeded and where they are headed in tomorrow’s selection show. Albany feels confident in post-season play as they join UMBC who already confirmed their bid into the CIT.