Jacob Iati isn't one to go an entire game without shooting, but with three minutes left in the America East championship game the Albany guard hadn't taken a shot.
Iati, who averages more than 12 points a game for the Great Danes, was just waiting for the right time to strike.
After Vermont, playing on its home floor, took a 45-43 lead, Iati hit back-to-back 3-point shots in the final three minutes, including the second one with a little more than 1:30 left on a great move to get open to put the Great Danes ahead 49-45. Even though Albany left the door open for Vermont to win by blowing free throws down the stretch, it held on to win 53-49 to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007. Iati was the hero again in the final minute, hitting two huge free throws with 19.4 seconds left after Vermont had pulled within two points.
Albany took a pretty tough road to get the NCAA berth.
The Great Danes, the fourth seed in the conference, won a one-point game against Maine in the quarterfinals. Then against Stony Brook, the strongest team in America East and one that would have had a legitimate shot to cause some havoc in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Albany pulled out a two-point win. Stony Brook had knocked off Albany in the America East tournament three years in a row.
Then Albany had to travel to Vermont and win a road game in the final. Albany's bench had a huge game to put the Great Danes ahead, scoring 27 points, but Vermont's crowd was going crazy when the Catamounts took the late lead. In that environment, Iati hit the two clutch 3-pointers to turn the game back in Albany's favor.
At 24-10, with an RPI of 147 to start the week, Albany is a candidate to be a 16 seed. Vermont was sent to Dayton for a First Four game last year and it's possible Albany could get that assignment too. If Albany is a 16 seed that might be OK, because the Great Danes have been to two NCAA tournaments and their best moment came in 2006 as a 16 seed when it gave a legitimate scare to UConn in the first round. The Great Danes led by as many as 12 in the second half against UConn before fading.
Albany did win a road game at Washington early this season, and is a fairly experienced team led by senior guards Iati and Mike Brown, who averages 15 points per game. And after this week, we know Albany won't be fazed by being in a pressure situation.
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