Albany's exciting victory over Mount St. Mary's gets NCAA tourney off to fun start

Albany center John Puk (44) pulls a rebound away from Mount St. Mary's center Taylor Danaher (50) in the first half of a first-round game of the NCAA college basketball tournament, Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in Dayton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

If Tuesday night's NCAA tournament opener between Mount St. Mary's and Albany is any indication, the next three weeks are going to be a lot of fun.

An unusual first half featured dueling 21-2 runs, first by the Great Danes to jump out to a huge lead and subsequently from the Mountaineers to tie the score at 23. Only after Mount Saint Mary's missed a pair of potential game-tying threes by excruciatingly slim margins in the final minute did Albany pull away for a 71-64 victory in a First Four battle of No. 16 seeds.

The first of the two Mount St. Mary's 3-point attempts was a right-wing try from leading scorer Rashad Whack that went halfway in and hung on the rim before coming out again. The second from Julian Norfleet was a more of a garden-variety miss, caroming off the back rim and into the arms of Albany guard D.J. Evans.

Evans sank both free throws to clinch the victory, two of his game-high 22 points. A Mount St. Mary's team that averages nearly 25 attempts from behind the arc tried 37 threes on Tuesday night but sank only 12 of them, a huge reason it could not withstand the scoring barrage from Evans or fellow Albany guard Peter Hooley (20 points).

Albany's victory was its first ever in the NCAA tournament after previously being one-and-done in 2006, 2007 and 2013. The reward for the Great Danes is a date with top-ranked Florida on Thursday in a South Regional Round of 64 game.

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Though Albany finished a distant fourth in the America East this season behind Vermont, Stony Brook and Hartford, history says not to completely discount the Great Danes.

A 16th-seeded Albany team adopted the motto "Why not us?" entering the 2006 NCAA tournament and led top-seeded UConn by double digits in the second half of their opening-round game. The Huskies rallied by outscoring the Great Danes 34-9 to close the game, but it's still one of the closer calls experienced by a top seed in the Round of 64.

Matching that feat won't be easy for this year's Albany team. Nonetheless, the Great Danes got their first NCAA tournament victory and started this year's event off in exciting fashion.

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