A large, boisterous crowd, a big late-game opposing presence inside and some inability to make plays down the stretch was too much for UMBC to overcome as the University at Albany knocked off the Retrievers, 69-61, in the championship game of the America East Conference tournament Saturday night.
The outcome sends the 23-9 Great Danes, making their first appearance in the conference championship game, to the NCAA tournament for the first time. Albany finds out its seeding position and opponent Monday night when the brackets are revealed.
UMBC, which finishes at 17-15 and entered the tournament as its No. 5 seed, hung around for much of the championship contest and had pulled into a 48-48 tie with 7:55 remaining when junior guard Kristin Coles converted a put-back.
But that's when Albany put 6-foot-8 freshman center Megan Craig, one of the tallest players on the Division I level, in the game for the first time in the second half.
Craig used her length and strength to establish position inside and convert close-range shots the first two times teammates got the ball in her hands.
The second hoop by Craig gave the winners a 52-49 advantage, and Albany never trailed again.
The Danes' Ebone Henry, who finished with 23 points, followed with a 3-pointer on the next Albany possession, and Craig added a pair of free throws to extend Albany's advantage to 57-53 with 4:20 remaining.
Craig did not score again, but Albany continued to extend its lead, scoring six of the game's next eight points to earn a 63-54 edge with 2:13 remaining; UMBC, playing before a home-court crowd of 2,408, never got closer than five again.
"We just could not get over the hump," Retrievers coach Phil Stern said. "The crowd was great and was definitely in their favor. But I thought if we could have gotten a late-game lead we would have quelled the crowd."
The turnout at Albany's on-campus SEFCU Arena was the largest for an America East women's championship game in six years.
The Danes connected on 25 of 55 from the field (45.5 percent).
The Retrievers shot 45 percent from the field (27 of 60) but made only three of 12 from 3-point range.
Senior center Topé Obajolu led UMBC with 16 points, one of four Retrievers to record double figures. Coles added 12 and a team-high eight rebounds, while senior forward Erin Brown and senior guard Michelle Kurowski added 10 points apiece.
The loss dropped UMBC to a 17-15 record after it was voted the favorite to win the conference in the preseason poll of coaches. Instead, the Retrievers finished tied for fourth place in the final standings and entered the league tournament as its No. 5 seed. The Retrievers had defeated top-seeded Boston University, 77-61, on Sunday to earn its berth in Saturday's championship contest.