Depth and balance were two of Vermont’s most consistent strengths this season — until the America East championship game against Albany on Saturday in Burlington, Vt.
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 backups being outscored, 27-9, by the Great Danes 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 Mike Black, named the tournament’s most outstanding player, 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.
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 also set a school record for victories in a season. The Great Danes won three conference tournament games by a total of 7 points.
‘‘We beat a very good basketball team in a hostile environment,’’ Albany coach Will Brown said. ‘‘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.’’
Vermont jumped to a 10-0 lead before Albany’s defense limited the Catamounts to four baskets the rest of the half. Albany’s pressure on the ball forced 11 Vermont turnovers that led to 13 points.
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 Luke Apfeld pulled Vermont to within 28-26 before Albany made its first basket, more than five minutes into the half.
There was still drama left for the final minute. Jacob Iati hit both ends of a 1-and-1 situation to give Albany a 51-47 lead with 20 seconds left. Vermont’s Trey Blue scored on a drive and was fouled to pull the Catamounts within a basket with 15 seconds to go. But Blue missed the free throw and Albany’s John Puk then hit both halves of a 1-and-1 to finish the scoring.
‘‘They played better than us today and they deserved to win,’’ said Becker, who was attempting to become the first league coach to win the conference title twice in his first two seasons. ‘‘For us, just a tough day with too many turnovers.”
NCAA Div. 2 East Regional first round — In Manchester, N.H., Tim Beinert scored 18 points and Terrence Bobb-Jones added 12 points, 17 rebounds, and 6 assists to help Assumption (20-7) advance with a 73-65 win over Southern New Hampshire (19-10). C.J. Marriro scored 22 points for the Penmen . . . David Darian led a balanced attack with 21 points, offsetting a 32-point outing by Chris Santo, and Bridgeport (21-9) earned a 77-66 win over Saint Anselm (23-5) and a second-round meeting against Assumption on Sunday . . . Ellis Cooper scored 21 points and Curtis Christian added 20 to power Franklin Pierce (22-8) to a 90-78 win over Bloomfield . . . . New Haven (20-8) advanced with a 73-66 victory over Dominican as Justin Exum scored 21 points.
NCAA Div. 3 third round — Aaron Toomey scored 25 points and Connor Green came off the bench to add 14 as host Amherst (26-2) raced out to a 24-point halftime lead and rolled to a 93-76 win over Randolph-Macon (21-9). The Lord Jeffs advance to the Sweet 16 March 22 in Salem, Va. . . . Joey Kizel hit two free throws with 1.8 seconds left to lead Middlebury (25-3) to a 73-72 win over visiting Ithaca (21-9) . . . Taylor Epley scored 26 points to boost Williams (26-4) to an 84-75 win over visiting Virginia Wesleyan (23-8).