ALBANY, N.Y. -- Tournament most valuable player Megan Craig had 16 points and seven rebounds, Shereesha Richards and Lindsey Lowrie added 12 points apiece, and top-seeded Albany (N.Y.) rallied past Hartford 61-52 on Saturday night to win its second straight America East Conference tournament.
The defending champion Great Danes (27-3), regular-season champions for the first time in program history, ended the regular season as the lone undefeated team in league play at 16-0. They've won 28 straight games against America East opponents, including the postseason.
Albany swept second-seeded Hartford (21-11) in the season series, posting a 55-48 overtime win in Albany before recording a 66-55 road win. The Great Danes beat New Hampshire 71-57 in the conference semifinals for their 18th straight win and were beating their conference opponents by an average of nearly 24 points.
The Hawks were seeking their sixth title and came up just short. They used a strong defensive performance to beat No. 6 seed Vermont 64-33 in the semifinals. Hartford held Vermont to just eight first-half points and forced 31 turnovers to tie the league postseason record.
The Albany men beat Vermont 53-49 earlier Saturday to make the NCAA field for the first time since 2007, spoiling the day for the sellout crowd of 3,245 in the hostile environment of the Catamounts' Patrick Gym. The Albany men became the first team seeded lower than third to win the title and set a school season record with their 24th victory.
The women joined them later despite an off night for Ebone Henry, the all-time leading scorer in school history for Albany (1,631 points). She missed her first seven shots and had failed to score as the midpoint of the second half loomed and the Great Danes trailed by four points.
But after missing an open 3-point attempt from the wing, Henry converted a pair of runners in the lane sandwiched around a fast-break layup by Richards to give Albany a 42-40 lead with 8:20 to play.
When Julie Forster fouled out with 6:58 left after notching 10 points and four steals and snaring six rebounds, the Great Danes were without their best rebounder, but they failed to wilt.
Henry set up Richards for a shot off the glass and a 52-48 lead with 2:56 left. After Nikkia Smith's layup moved Hartford into a 52-all tie with 97 seconds left, Albany scored nine straight points as its defense clamped down.
With fans holding up a sign that read "Dancing Danes" and roaring, Sarah Royals scored from the lane and the 6-foot-8 Craig followed with a shot off the glass as the Danes pulled away.
Smith led Hartford with a game-high 18 points, the only Hartford player in double figures. Shanise Bultron had seven points and Amber Bepko finished with six for Hartford, which was outscored 38-14 in the paint.
Bultron, who entered the game shooting 5 of 6 from long range in the tournament, snapped a 28-all tie with a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 16:23 left. Craig's shot off the glass put Albany back in front less than two minutes later in a game where the biggest lead was eight.
Craig proved difficult for the Hawks to handle all night. She had two easy layups and Forster added two more as Albany reeled off 10 straight points to gain a 15-8 lead in the first 5 minutes of play. The surge came after Bepko's four-point play had given Hartford an 8-5 lead.
With cheerleaders and pep bands from both schools rocking SEFCU Arena on Albany's campus, the Hawks matched the Great Danes at every turn in the first half and halfway through the second.
After Richards' fast-break layup staked Albany to a 24-16 lead at 6:40, Hartford closed the half with a 10-1 spurt to take a 26-25 lead into the locker room. Daphne Elliott started the rush with a 3-pointer from the top of the key and Bultron finished it with a pair of baskets in the final 2:18, the first a pretty floater over the outstretched arms of Craig.
The Hawks' total was just about right for Albany, which entered the game ranked third in the nation, allowing 48.6 points per game. What the Great Danes were lacking in the first half was any sort of scoring contribution from Henry, who missed all four shots she attempted, though she did have three assists.