Dayton, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - The 2014 NCAA Tournament tips off on Tuesday night at the University of Dayton Arena, as No. 16 seeds the Albany Great Danes and the Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers face off in South Region's first round, with the winner advancing to play No. 1 seed Florida on Thursday.
Albany finished the regular season in fourth place in the American East Conference, but it blazed through the conference tournament with three straight wins, beating both top-seeded Vermont (67-58 in the semifinals) and second-seeded Stony Brook (69-60 in the championship) en route to the automatic bid. The Great Danes have played in the NCAA Tournament three previous times (2006, 2007, 2013) but have yet to earn a win.
Mount Saint Mary's also played the spoiler in its conference tournament. After entering the Northeast Conference Tournament as the No. 4 seed at just 13-16 overall, it pieced together three straight wins over St. Francis-Brooklyn (72-71), Wagner (77-72) and Robert Morris (88-71). The Mountaineers have also qualified for the Big Dance on three other occasions, having previously defeated Coppin State in the 2008 play-in game (69-60) before losing to top- seeded North Carolina (113-74).
This marks the first-ever meeting between Albany and Mount St. Mary's on the hardwood.
The Great Danes lost control of a halftime lead in the America East Tournament title game but finished the game on a 23-8 run over the final 6:47 to punch their ticket. Sam Rowley led the way with 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field. DJ Evans and Peter Hooley netted 16 and 15 points, respectively, while Gary Johnson tallied eight points and 10 rebounds.
Scoring points hasn't been Albany's speciality this season, as it scores a mere 66.0 ppg on less than 44 percent shooting from the field, but it has excelled on the defensive end of the floor in yielding just 63.8 ppg on 41.9 percent shooting. Hooley pours in a team-best 15.7 ppg on 69-of-172 shooting from beyond the arc (.401). Rowley (11.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg) is a mainstay in the paint, while Evans (11.2 ppg) and Johnson (10.9 ppg) have also been solid.
The Mountaineers made easy work of Robert Morris in the NEC championship bout, running out to a commanding 16-point lead at intermission before cruising to the easy double-digit victory. They shot a blistering 60.4 percent from the field in the triumph and had five players register in double figures, paced by Rashad Whack's 20 points. Julian Norfleet had 17 points, Taylor Danaher and Sam Prescott netted 15 apiece and Will Miller scored 11 off the bench.
Mount St. Mary's plays an opposite style of basketball as Albany, as it rarely has trouble filling up the scoreboard (76.2 ppg) yet leaves itself vulnerable on the defensive end of the court (78.0 ppg). The squad has a dynamic scoring duo in Whack (17.7 ppg) and Norfleet (17.5 ppg), with Norfleet also finding time to dish out 5.4 apg. Prescott rounds out the double-digit scorers by putting up 11.0 ppg.