DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — The beginning and the end weren’t so good to Mount St. Mary’s.
The Mountaineers will try to remember what they did in the rest of their First Four matchup with Albany on Tuesday.
D.J. Evans scored 22 points, including two clinching free throws with 12.6 seconds left, to lead Albany to its first NCAA tournament victory, 71-64 over The Mount.
The Mountaineers (16-17), winners of the Northeast Conference tournament, fell behind 13-0 and 21-2 at the outset. Then, after scratching and clawing all day — and making 12 of 37 3-pointers — they went scoreless over the last 2:28.
Coach Jamion Christian said his team was not disheartened.
“We’re making progress each year, and the first thing I’ve learned from being at VCU and Bucknell, teams that have won games in the tournament, you’ve got to know that you can get there first,” the second-year coach said. “There is a road, there is a blueprint to get there, and you’ve got to have the confidence to know that the blueprint works.”
Mount St. Mary’s, like Albany (19-14), was making its fourth NCAA appearance. It had won once before — a victory over Coppin State in 2008 in the old format of an opening-round leading into the big tournament.
This one could have gotten away early.
The Mount couldn’t do much right for the first 8-plus minutes. The Great Danes raced to a 13-0 lead. The Mountaineers missed misfired on their first 11 shots from the field, including six behind the arc.
Even after Rashad Whack, who finished with 16 points, finally got them on the board with a driving layup at the 13:17 mark, the Great Danes kept pouring it on. When Peter Hooley cut through the lane for a layup at the 11:33 mark, Albany led 21-2 and the Mount St. Mary’s white-clad cheering section was silent.
“This team has been down a couple games and made a couple of runs,” said senior guard Sam Prescott, who had 14 points. “We were able to rely on and trust in each other in this game.”
Enter Will Miller. The 6-foot-6 freshman, averaging 5.1 points a game, finished with 21 points — all from behind the arc. He was 7 of 12 on 3-pointers.
A team fueled by 3s finally went on a surge after Miller hit the first of his three first-half 3s. That touched off an 18-0 run, with Miller leading the way with three long bombs and Julian Norfleet adding one.
“Any time any player can get a start like that, you just kind of keep going and you build off momentum,” Miller said. “To be able to come in the game, make that kind of impact, really meant a lot.”
Miller’s hot hand made all the difference in the world for The Mount, who needed someone to turn things around.
“Although 21-2 is not exactly the best way to start the game — I think anyone would acknowledge that — I knew our team would rally together and be able to come back,” Christian said.
Down 35-31 at the break, the Mountaineers kept trading spurts with the Great Danes.
The Mount scored 14 of 18 points over a 4-minute span to build a 45-41 lead. Then Albany went on a 10-1 run. Trailing 60-53, the Mountaineers scored nine of the next 12 capped by Miller’s two 3s to cut the deficit to a point.
But after his second swished through from the left win with 3:32 left to cut the deficit to 63-62, The Mount mustered just two more points.
Whack and Norfleet each missed potential tying 3s — Whack’s rolled almost inside the rim and net and then bounded away with 35 seconds remaining.
“I got a good look at the shot,” said Whack, a senior. “I shot it with confidence. As I saw it leave my hand, saw it hit the rim, I thought it was going in. But sometimes it doesn’t always fall.”
Sam Prescott added 14 points for Mount St. Mary’s.
The glut of 3-pointers was nothing new for the Mountaineers. They came in with an offense heavily dependent on shots behind the arc. They averaged 9 of 25 on 3-pointers coming in.
Christian hung on to how his team recovered from such a nightmare of a start.
“A lot of teams would have folded,” he said. “Our guys didn’t do that. They took the punch and they bounced back.”
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)