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America East Tournament – Sunday Recap (Semifinals)

America East Tournament - Vermont vs. UMBC
Twitter, @briancady

After yesterday’s excitement in the Men’s Quarterfinals of the America East Tournament, it would be an understatement to say that I was thrilled about coming back to SEFCU Arena for another slate of four games. On the Sunday calendar was all four Semifinal matchups on both the Men’s and Women’s sides, with only two schools being represented in both sessions – tournament host UAlbany and Vermont.

In the first game of the day, the Women’s 2-seed Hartford dominated the entire first half against the 6-seed Vermont Catamounts, taking a 35-8 lead into the locker room. The Hawks’ full-court press defense was suffocating, forcing several turnovers by Vermont and dominating inside the paint. Vermont’s standout senior Lauren Buschmann would come out for the second half playing much better, scoring her first 6 points of the game with the first few minutes. But by then, it was honestly too late for the Catamounts, as Hartford waltzed their way to a 64-33 victory and a berth in the America East Women’s Championship Game.

In the other Women’s Semifinal between top-seed UAlbany and the five-seed New Hampshire, the Great Danes struggled mightily on offense, but still took a 32-26 lead into the locker room at halftime. UAlbany would carry the momentum from the final three minutes of the first half into the second half, having a 13-point lead with 8:40 to go.

However, the Wildcats wouldn’t go down without a fight. New Hampshire would pull within three points with less than 6 minutes left in the game, until Ebone Henry got her first bucket of the game and swung momentum back to the Great Danes. Both teams would trade buckets and free throws, with the Great Danes eventually walking away with a 71-57 victory.

Senior forward and 1st-Team All-Conference player Julie Forster was all over the floor, grabbing rebounds and causing massive disruptions on the defensive end. The conference co-Player of the Year and senior guard Ebone Henry struggled mightily from the field, but had an excellent day at the foul line, which allowed her to still contribute 13 points. The Great Danes will host Hartford in the America East Women’s Championship on Saturday March 16 at 7 p.m.

Our first Men’s Semifinal pitted the 2-seed Vermont Catamounts against the 6-seed UMBC Retrievers. UMBC started hot from the field, led by senior guard Ryan Cook, who was slicing and dicing his way into the pain early and often. Vermont eventually caught up and the game turned into a high-powered shootout between the Catamounts and Retrievers, with UMBC taking a 40-37 lead into halftime.

UMBC started the second half fast, but then after the first media timeout, Vermont came out firing thanks to a seven-point stretch by Candon Rusin around the 15-minute mark. The game would start to really slow down around the 9-minute mark, when both teams would find themselves in the bonus. In the final 7-8 minutes of the game, Vermont took over and showed their Tournament experience. The Catamounts end up with an 85-72 victory, advancing to the Men’s Championship Game.

And then, there was one: the grand finale, the ultimate conclusion to a weekend of amazing basketball at SEFCU Arena. The night-cap of “Semifinal Sunday,” as the top-seed Stony Brook Seawolves took on the tournament host and four-seed UAlbany Great Danes. It was a contest that live up to all of the expectations I heard about it – high-energy, tough, aggressive, emotional basketball.

Stony Brook seemed to have the better of it early on, but right around the time of the first media timeout of the first half at 14:50, UAlbany picked things up on the offensive end and started to execute. Jacob Iati led the Great Danes in scoring with seven points in the first half, as UAlbany took a 28-22 lead into the intermission.

In the second half, both teams continued to carry the hard-nosed approach they used in the first 20 minutes. Stony Brook would slowly and methodically claw their way back to making it a one-possession game about halfway into the second half. However, the Great Danes would just as slowly and methodically re-establish a bigger lead the next 4-5 minutes, taking an eight-point cushion into the final media timeout with 3:45 remaining on the clock.

Dave Coley would tie the game at 59 apiece with 14.1 seconds on the clock, UAlbany brings the ball up and Mike Black drives for the layup with just under three seconds to go. Coley would get a look at roughly a 35-foot floater, but it hit the far end of the backboard and UAlbany completed their first victory in the last seven meetings against Stony Brook, by a score of 61-59.

So there you have it, the matchups for next Saturday’s championship games in the America East Conference: UAlbany will host Hartford on the Women’s side, and Vermont will host UAlbany on the Men’s side. Take a drink, Great Danes fans – you deserve it after a dramatic weekend like this.

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