DAYTON, Ohio — University of Albany coach Will Brown called senior point guard D.J. Evans “fearless” after Tuesday night’s first-round NCAA Tournament victory over Mount St. Mary’s after the Great Danes held off a Mountaineers comeback.
Now their courage gets further tested on Thursday when Albany faces top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Florida (32-2) in Orlando, Fla.
Evans scored 22 points, sophomore guard Peter Hooley added 20 points and Albany outlasted Mount St. Mary’s 71-64 in a matchup of No. 16 seeds at the University of Dayton Arena.
Forward Gary Johnson contributed 13 points and seven rebounds for Albany (19-14).
“It’s a great win for the America East Conference and for our program,” Brown said. “We couldn’t be happier.”
Evans made 8 of 13 shots from the floor and had three assist and two steals.
Albany outrebounded the Mountaineers 42-23, including nine boards by the 5-foot-9 Evans.
“He got nine rebounds and he’s like 4-foot-8,” Hooley said. “He’s a tremendous player. It’s amazing what he’s able to do.”
Mount St. Mary’s did not go down without a fight.
Freshman forward Will Miller went 7 of 12 from 3-point range and scored 21 points to lead Mount St. Mary’s, which rallied from a 19-point, first-half deficit.
“We knew they were going to make a run,” said Hooley, whose family watched the game in his native Australia. “We were able to weather the storm. We pride ourselves on being resilient. We managed to pull it out.”
Mountaineers guard Rashad Whack, who finished with 16 points, had a potential tying 3-pointer rim out with 36 seconds left. He had another opportunity to tie the score, but his shot caromed off the rim with 16 seconds remaining.
“I got a good look at the shot,” Whack said. “I shot it with confidence. As I saw it leave my hand, saw it hit the rim, I thought it was going in. But sometimes it doesn’t always fall. So it is what it is.”
It was indicative of a hot-and-cold shooting evening for the Mountaineers, who finished 12 of 37 from 3-point range.
Mount Saint Mary’s, which ranked 10th in the nation in 3-pointers per game, started 0 of 8 from beyond the arc. However, the Mountaineers (16-17) finished the first half 7 of 12 from 3-point range to spark their comeback.
“I’m not surprised that we were able to come back from such a poor start. Our team has so much character,” Mount St. Mary’s coach Jamion Christian said. “I’m going to give a lot of credit to Albany. They did an outstanding job tonight and they deserved to win.”
While Mount St. Mary’s was relying on perimeter shooting, Albany was dominating in the paint, outscoring the Mountaineers by 20.
Hooley’s layup off an inbounds pass put the Great Danes ahead 51-46.
A dunk by center John Puk gave Albany a 63-56 lead.
Miller hit back to back 3-pointers to make it a one-point game with 3:22 left, but Albany hung on for the victory.
It took some time for Mount St. Mary’s to settle into the environment at UD Arena.
A 3-pointer by Evans put Albany ahead 7-0. The lead grew to 13-0 with 13:31 left in the first half, prompting a timeout by Mount St. Mary’s.
The Mountaineers began the game 0 of 12 from the field and did not score their first basket until 13:17 remained in the first half.
Hooley, Albany’s leading scorer, was scoreless for the first nine minutes before his running layup made it 21-2.
At that point, the Mount St. Mary’s offense woke up.
Miller hit two 3-pointers during an 18-0 run to get Mount St. Mary’s back in the game. Mountaineers guard Sam Prescott (14 points) hit a 3-pointer to tie the score 23-23.
Evans paced all scorers with 13 first-half points. Albany led 35-31 at halftime.
“We were the only game on national TV so we wanted to keep the viewers interested,” Brown joked. “Basketball is a game of runs. We wanted to make the first run. They were a difficult matchup for us.”
NOTES: Both teams made their fourth NCAA Tournament
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