Last season, Vermont fell to Stony Brook in the America East (AE) Championship after carrying a nine-point lead into halftime. The Catamounts gave up 53 points in the second half alone.
But on Saturday against Albany, UVM (29-5, 16-0 AE) gave up just 53 points in its return to the conference championship game. Vermont punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament after 40 agonizing minutes in the AE Championships. After trailing late in the second half, the Catamounts came back to earn a 56-53 comeback victory over the Great Danes (21-13, 10-6 AE).
The Catamounts (29-5) improved their winning streak to 21 — the longest current run in the nation — and finally solved the Great Danes in the conference championship game, the program’s return to March Madness. Albany had been 3-0 in conference title games against Vermont, with two of those wins coming in UVM’s home arena of Patrick Gymnasium.
The win sealed Vermont’s perfect AE season. The Catamounts are the first team to do so in the conference since 1992. Their championship is their sixth since 2006.
Down by nine points with 7:49 remaining in the second half, Vermont went on a 7-1 run. The run, which tied the game at 48, was bookended by two 3-pointers from senior guard Kurt Steidl. Redshirt junior forward Payton Henson led Vermont with 17 points, shooting five of eight from the field. Freshman forward Anthony Lamb, recipient of the Reggie Lewis Most Outstanding Player Award, added a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
With 39 seconds left, Henson was fouled after making a layup with an assist from junior guard Trae Bell-Haynes. His free throw sealed the Catamounts’ victory.
Redshirt junior forward Travis Charles led Albany with 16 points in 23 minutes off the bench. He was followed by sophomore guard David Nichols who tallied 14 points, but shot just 24 percent from the field, including one of nine from beyond the arc.
Vermont’s victory earned them the No. 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They will take on fourth-seeded Purdue on Thursday from the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.