DJ Evans was the smallest player on the court Tuesday night, but had the biggest impact. Evans scored 22 points and grabbed 9 rebounds as the Albany Great Danes topped the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers to kick off March Madness. The 5’9″ guard from Missouri carried the team throughout the game, including at the end when he hit two clutch free throws to put the game away.
Albany opened the game on a scoring spree, playing uncharacteristically fast but jumping out to a 21-2 lead with Evans scoring nine of those points. That lead evaporated when Mount St. Mary’s went on a 21-2 run of their own, which included six three-pointers as the Mountaineers began to heat up from deep. From then on the game was close, with both teams being within a bucket of each other for most of the second half.
The Mountaineers actually excelled at playing their style of basketball. The pace was fast, they forced 14 Albany turnovers, and they made 12 three-pointers. Albany looked rattled as Mount St. Mary’s climbed back into the game during their first half run, and continued to turn the ball over way too frequently. The Great Danes were kept in the game by their defense and hot shooting, as the team made 57.4 percent of their shots compared to only 36.7 percent for the Mountaineers. Albany also had a tremendous advantage on the boards, out-rebounding Mount St. Mary’s 42 to 23.
Aside from Evans, who looked like he was everywhere on the court, Albany got a great offensive game out of their leading scorer during the regular season, Peter Hooley. The senior guard poured in 20 points, while he and Evans both played every minute of the game. The Great Danes entire bench only played 16 minutes combined while scoring no points, so it was completely up the their starting lineup to pull out a victory. In spite of their heavy workload they seemed to get stronger as the game went on.
This match-up was the quintessence of March Madness. With three minutes left in the game there was only a one-point margin. Albany was finally able to slow the game down at the end, chewing up clock by rebounding on both ends of the floor and not letting the press affect them. Evans was a big part of this, showing his speed up the court when needed. The team also passed well, in spite of their high number of turnovers, using ball movement to work around the press of the Mountaineers.
For Albany, this was the first NCAA Tournament victory in school history. They will take on the No. 1 seed Florida Gators in the opening day of the second round. The two teams will meet in Orlando, which for the Gators is as close to a home game as teams ever get during March Madness. Albany must clean up their turnovers and mental mistakes before even thinking about competing with Florida. They coughed up the ball 14 times and at one point thought a free throw was the first of two shots, allowing Sam Prescott of Mount St. Mary’s to grab an uncontested rebound and calmly lay the ball in, right in the middle of three Albany players. Florida will capitalize on those kind of errors much more frequently than Mount St. Mary’s did. March Madness continues very shortly for the Great Danes; they will have only one day off before the match-up. A No. 16 seed has never defeated a No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament history.
Commentary by Brian Moore