23-9, 13-3 Conf
25-7, 15-1 Conf

Albany squeaks by Vermont to claim America East title

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) -- Before tip-off, the hand-lettered sign in Albany's noisy cheering section seemed like wishful thinking. It turned out to be prescient.

"I've seen this movie before. We win," the sign read.

Albany, which beat Vermont in last year's America East championship game, did it again Saturday, eking out a 60-59 thriller that came down to the final play.

Jamar Wilson scored 22 points and Jason Siggers added 14 as Albany (23-9) overcame Vermont's homecourt advantage with a mix of aggressive rebounding, clutch 3-point shooting and poise.

Same teams, same championship game, same result. But it came on Vermont's home floor, before a sellout crowd in a game with 13 lead changes -- eight of them in the second half.

Wilson, the conference player of the year, hit a 15-foot jump shot to break a 56-56 tie and added a spinning right hand jump hook seconds later to give Albany the lead for good.

Vermont, which won both regular-season meetings between the teams, had a chance to win. Down 60-59 with 32.4 seconds left, the Catamounts (25-7) inbounded the ball and guard Mike Trimboli let the clock run down before attacking the basket.

The plan was to break Trimboli free for a jump shot or put him at the line with the game in the balance.

But Brian Lillis knocked the ball loose from Trimboli with about four seconds remaining and Vermont didn't get a shot off, sealing Albany's victory.

"Man, it's heartbreaking to not get a shot off," said Lonergan.

Marqus Blakely and Mike Trimboli led Vermont (25-7) with 10 points apiece.

"Vermont doesn't lose in this building very often, and we'd never won here," said Albany Coach Will Brown. "The odds weren't exactly in our favor."

Taking advantage of an injury to Vermont big man Chris Holm, Albany outrebounded the nation's best rebounding team and overcame 37 percent first-half shooting.

Holm, a 6-foot-11 forward, turned his right ankle on the opening tip and hobbled to the sideline seconds later. Averaging 10.7 points and 12.4 rebounds a game, he was held scoreless and had one rebound in the first half as Albany took a 27-22 lead.

Wilson showed off a dizzying arsenal of crossover dribbles, slashing drives and hesitation moves, penetrating almost at will and either finishing with a basket or dishing it off for an easy basket.

"He'd go there and we were back on our heels and he was just laying it in," said Lonergan.

Wilson, who finished with seven rebounds and six assists, said the win was even sweeter than last year, when Albany won at home.

"To actually beat them on their home floor, when it really mattered, is the best feeling," said Wilson.

When Holm limped to the sideline less than a minute into the game, it was a huge loss for the Catamounts.

A trainer re-taped it and Holm returned three minutes later, but he wasn't himself after that, finishing with eight points and four rebounds.

The hosts struggled with their shooting early, but rallied when freshman Joe Trapani -- who missed seven games with a stress fracture in his foot -- took a pass from Trimboli for a driving dunk in traffic, giving Vermont its first lead at 8-7.

Albany endured an eight-minute field goal drought but the Great Danes managed to hang around. Wilson hit a pair of free throws and a driving left-hand layup and Lillis added an 18-foot jumper on the ensuing possession as Albany regained the lead, 19-18.

Vermont, which led Division I in rebounding advantage, missed Holm underneath. With him hobbled and Lillis and Wilson crashing the offensive boards, Albany scored 10 second-chance points in the first half to two for Vermont.

As regular-season conference champions, Vermont is in line for an NIT bid.

"We have to keep our heads up. We can still make a name for ourselves in the NIT," Trimboli said.