28-4, 15-1 Conf

No. 1 seed Albany clinches America East, tournament berth

ALBANY, N.Y. -- When Stony Brook ruined Albany's bid for a second straight perfect season in America East conference play, the Great Danes simply filed the experience in the memory bank.

There would be no repeat -- only a three-peat.

Shereesha Richards had 26 points, Sarah Royals added 19 points and eight assists, and top-seeded Albany beat second-seeded Stony Brook 70-46 on Monday to avenge that loss and win the America East title and the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

"We were not going to let that happen again," said Richards, selected the tournament's most outstanding player. "We're always up for revenge. That wrecked our perfect season."

It was the third straight America East tournament title for Albany (28-4), only the fourth team to accomplish the three-peat. Maine holds the record with four, ending in 1998.

"We worked hard to get to this championship game," Albany coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said. "I'm proud of them. I can't even tell you how proud I am."

Albany leads the series with Stony Brook 28-22, including nine of the past 10. But the Seawolves (24-8) took the previous game, a 66-56 win on Albany's home court at SEFCU Arena, and that snapped Albany's conference-record 38-game winning streak over two seasons.

"We lost a week ago. That was fresh on my mind," Royals said.

In the first game this season between the teams, Albany overcame an eight-point halftime deficit and won 66-51 on the road. Richards and 6-foot-9 center Megan Craig combined for 29 points and 17 rebounds and the Great Danes held the Seawolves to 30.9 percent shooting (17-of-55).

In the rematch a little more than a week ago, Stony Brook shot 44.9 percent and held Albany, the regular-season champion, to 35.4 percent as the Seawolves pounded the ball inside. They outscored the Great Danes 20-6 from the free throw line as Albany's "twin towers" -- the 6-1 Richards and Craig -- struggled with foul trouble.

Richards, the America East player of the year and the first player to lead the conference in scoring (20.1), rebounds (9.1) and shooting percentage (.624) in the same season, finished with nine points in the streak-ending loss, only the second time she failed to reach double figures this season.

The Great Danes weren't about to let that happen again. Richards scored 12 points, Tammy Phillip added 10 and Royals nine in a decisive first half as Albany held Sabre Proctor, Stony Brook's leading scorer, to two points while taking a 16-point lead at the break.

"They did a great job of starting out the beginning of the game with a lot of intense pressure," Stony Brook coach Beth O'Boyle said. "It forced us to get back on our heels a little bit."

Phillip had 13 points, eight rebounds and five steals for Albany, which did not attempt a 3-pointer. Craig had seven points and six rebounds before fouling out late in the game.

Proctor and Brittany Snow led Stony Brook with 12 points apiece and Jessica Ogunnorin had 10. Senior guard Chikilra Goodman, who averaged 11.9 points and a team-high 7.8 rebounds, finished with six points on 3-of-12 shooting and eight rebounds.

Albany held Stony Brook to 13-of-53 shooting (24.5 percent), the lowest in a tournament final, and had 18 steals against the Seawolves, who were 1-of-15 on 3-pointers. The Great Danes shot 26-of-48 (54.2 percent) and dominated the paint 44-16.

The Great Danes were pumped from the opening tip, forcing three turnovers in the first three minutes and scoring the game's first six points.

A steal and fast-break layup by Richards made it 6-0 and forced the Seawolves to use their first timeout.

Not much changed when play resumed as Richards scored six more points, her shot off the glass from underneath staking Albany to a 16-8 lead at 11:54 That was part of a 14-2 run that put the Great Danes in control.

Stony Brook went 7:01 without a basket, missing nine shots against Albany's swarming defense and getting only a pair of free throws by Ogunnorin as Albany built a double-digit lead. A jumper from the wing by Zakiya Saunders put the Great Danes up 26-12 at 7:08.

A follow by Snow broke the Stony Brook drought, but Albany closed the half with a 10-6 spurt keyed by a steal and fast-break layup that Phillip turned into a three-point play with 4:27 to go.

A driving layup by Royals and a foul line jumper by Phillip just before the buzzer gave Albany a 36-20 halftime lead without any points from Craig, who picked up two early fouls and played only 12 minutes in the first half.

The Seawolves never got closer than 12 in the second half and Richards pretty much sealed the triumph with eight straight points, her fast-break layup with 8:44 left giving Albany a 52-37 lead.

If that loss to end the regular season created extra pressure, it certainly didn't show.

"I don't think we really feel pressure," Craig said. "It shows how great we've been. We came out harder and tougher. We have experience on our side. We know what we're doing."