Posted: Sat March 16, 2013 2:53PM; Updated: Sat March 16, 2013 2:51PM

Albany tops Vermont 53-49 for America East title, NCAA berth

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Albany guard Jacob Iati celebrates with fans after defeating the Vermont Catamounts.
Albany guard Jacob Iati celebrates with fans after defeating the Vermont Catamounts.
David Butler II/US Presswire

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) -- Mike Black scored 14 points and Albany came back from an early deficit to beat Vermont 53-49 in the America East championship game on Saturday and earn its third trip to the NCAA tournament.

Luke Devlin added 12 points on 6-for-6 shooting as the Great Danes (24-10) ended an eight-game losing streak to the Catamounts (21-11). Jacob Iati hit a pair of 3-point shots in the final three minutes to seal the win.

Trey Blue and Clancy Rugg each had 10 points to lead Vermont, which was denied its sixth trip to the NCAAs in the past 11 years.

During the regular season, Albany was beaten 70-45 and 50-43 by Vermont in its two lowest-scoring games of the year. But Albany came through on the road to beat the Catamounts for the third time in as many tries in the league title game.

Albany became the first team seeded lower than third to win the title, and also set a school season record for victories. The Great Danes, who won three conference playoff games by a total of seven points, return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since back-to-back berths in 2006 and 2007.

Vermont took a 10- lead in the opening three minutes, but Albany's defense limited the Catamount four baskets for the rest of the half and by the break the Great Danes led 28-20. Albany's pressure on the ball forced 11 turnovers that led to 13 points.

Black scored 11 of his points in the opening 20 minutes as Albany hit 12 of 22 shots. The Great Danes' reserves came through by scoring the other 17 points, led by Devlin and Peter Hooley with six each.

Hooley's steal for a basket gave Albany an 11-10 lead with 11:27 left in the half and his score off a turnover gave the Danes their largest margin at 28-18 with 1:25 left.

Vermont hit only eight of 21 shots (1-for-6 from 3-point range) and Luke Apfeld had more turnovers (3) than points (2). Only a 15-9 rebounding advantage that produced eight second-chance points kept the Catamounts within reach.

Vermont, which also trailed at the half in its two previous conference playoff wins, put together another surge to start the second half. Three-point plays from Ethan O'Day and Apfeld pull UVM within 28-26 before Albany made its first basket, more than five minutes into the half.

The Catamounts misfired on a handful of chances to tie and Blake Metcalf's slam pushed the Albany lead to 38-31 with 9:21 remaining.

A 3-pointer from the wing by Black kept the Great Danes in front. But four points from UVM all-conference forward Brian Voelkel and Sandro Carissimo pulled the Cats even at 41-41 with 5:25 left.

Carissimo's drive gave Vermont a 45-43 lead with three minutes remaining. But Iati hit a 3-point shot from the wing and, after a UVM turnover, hit another 3-pointer to push Albany on top 49-45 with 1:35 left.

The Great Danes' John Puk missed three foul shots, allowing Vermont to close to 49-47 on Apfeld's follow shot at 0:26. But Iati hit both ends of a 1-and-1 with 19 seconds left.

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