DAYTON, Ohio (AP) - D.J. Evans is charitably listed at 5-foot-9. His coach and teammates tease him that he looks a foot shorter.
Yet he stood awfully tall for Albany on Tuesday night.
Evans scored 22 points, including two clinching free throws with 12.6 seconds left, to lead the Great Danes to their first NCAA tournament victory, 71-64 over Mount St. Mary’s in the First Four.
Evans, an often overlooked component in Albany’s lineup, belied his height with nine rebounds to go with three assists.
“He’s about 4-foot-8, so he’s really impressive,” laughed his running mate at guard, Peter Hooley, who had 20 points. “I don’t think there’s another 4-8 guard who could go in there and get that many boards. He did what he needed to do to get this win.”
It was a signature victory for the America East Conference tournament champs, who had come up empty in three previous trips to the big dance.
“It means a lot,” said an emotional coach Will Brown. “There’s no better feeling. Like I told our kids, we’re going to be in the history books at the University of Albany forever.”
The Great Danes (19-14) advance to meet overall No. 1 seed and top-ranked Florida on Thursday in Orlando. But that was a concern for another day.
It was a wild game of incredible turnarounds, with the Great Danes bolting to leads of 13-0 and 21-2, only to have The Mount (16-17) bounce back with a 21-2 run of its own to pull even.
Hooley, one of three Australians on the Albany roster, hit two free throws with 2:43 remaining to stretch the lead to 65-62. After Julian Norfleet countered with a bucket, Hooley again pounded his way to the basket and lofted a shot over a defender for a 67-64 lead at the 2-minute mark.
It stayed that way with the teams missing big shots. Rashad Whack and Norfleet each missed potential tying 3s - Whack’s rolled almost inside the rim and then bounded away.
“When it hit the rim, I thought it was going to go in,” Whack said softly.
Evans was fouled with 12.6 seconds left and hit both shots to increase the lead to five points - and out of reach of another long-range shot.
Evans was most proud of his rebounding.
“They shot a lot of 3s and there were a lot of long rebounds,” he said with a grin. “I was just at the right place at the right time.”